After months of extensions, the United Steelworkers (USW) ratified a new three-year labor contract this week that will keep operations going at Cliffs Natural Resources in Michigan and Minnesota’s Iron Range into 2018, company officials announced Thursday.
The new contract is retroactive to Oct. 1, 2015, and extends through Sept. 30, 2018.
It covers about 2,000 union workers employed at Cliffs’ United Taconite (UTAC) and Hibbing Taconite in northeastern Minnesota and at Cliffs’ Tilden and Empire iron ore mines in Michigan. The contract does not cover workers at Cliffs’ nonunion Northshore Mining operations in Silver Bay and Babbitt.
United Steelworkers members at Cliffs outlets in Michigan and Minnesota had been working under temporary contract extensions since their old agreement expired Oct. 1, 2015. In the meantime they negotiated with the company over wages, hours and benefits.
The new labor agreement is welcome news to Minnesota economists and politicians, who have hoped that conditions would improve for the region following a bitter industry downturn that resulted in nearly 2,000 Iron Range layoffs over two years.
The new USW contract comes two years after Cliffs began major restructuring that involved selling coal operations in West Virginia and Alabama and idling or closing select iron-ore operations across North America.
Cliffs idled its UTAC operations in Forbes and Eveleth, Minn., and laid off 420 employees in August 2015. In December, it idled Northshore Mining, laying off about 520 workers.
The company reopened both operations earlier this summer and in August announced that it would build a $65 million taconite plant in Forbes.
“We are pleased to reach a new labor contract that is fair and equitable to both parties, and provides Cliffs a competitive cost structure for future success,” Cliffs President and CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in a statement. “This agreement once again reinforces that we have more in common with the USW than we have differences, and we look forward to continuing our strong partnership.”