United Taconite, the third-largest iron ore pellet producer on the Iron Range, will lay off 420 employees, or nearly 87 percent of its workforce, by the end of August in the face of lower prices in an oversupplied market, the company said Wednesday.
The layoffs will idle the mine in Eveleth and the plant in Forbes, which in recent years have produced about 5 million tons of taconite annually. The furloughs are expected to last less than six months, owner Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. said.
The company said 375 hourly workers, all represented by the United Steelworkers, and 45 salaried workers will be laid off. They will receive partial pay, and none will be offered severance because all are expected to be rehired later this year or in 2016, the company said.
Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves said that anti-dumping cases recently brought by two steelmakers should slow the flow of low-priced foreign steel into the United States. Amid the troubled market for steel, orders for iron ore pellets have fallen off, he said.
“We expect to see improved industry operating conditions and profitability in the second half of this year,” Goncalves said as the company released its second-quarter results.
The layoffs at United Taconite come just days after U.S. Steel announced it’s recalling 400 worker at Minntac, the state’s largest taconite producer, based in Mountain Iron. But hundreds of workers remain on layoff at three other mining operations, one of which has filed for bankruptcy.
Cliffs reported its overall sales, which include coal operations that it’s trying to sell, dropped 33 percent in the second quarter to $498 million compared with the same period last year. But the company’s net income rose to $60 million, or 39 cents per share, compared with a $2 million or 2-cent loss in last year’s second quarter.
Goncalves told analysts on a conference call that while United Taconite is idle, the company will begin an upgrade there to produce a different type of iron ore pellet now made at its Empire operation in Michigan, which is idle and slated to close next year.
United Taconite also will keep a small, core group of employees to maintain the operation during the temporary shutdown, the company said.
Cliffs, based in Cleveland, also owns Northshore Mining and is part owner and operator of Hibbing Taconite. No layoffs have occurred at those Iron Range operations, the company said.