AURORA — A two-day vote held by the United Steelworkers District 11 at the Mesabi Nugget plant near Aurora has failed.
Steelworkers District 11 organizer Jerry Perpich acknowledged the outcome on Friday. “We lost the vote,” he said.
It was their first attempt to organize the hourly production and maintenance workers at the plant. But the outcome was “a little embarrassing,” he said.
Mesabi Nugget General Manager Jeff Hansen said Friday that the vote, held Wednesday morning and Thursday evening, was 57 votes against a union to 21 votes for it.
The vote was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, with union and management officials present for the ballot count.
Perpich explained that the Steelworkers respond usually when someone calls to request a unionization drive. “Safety was the biggest issue,” he added.
The Steelworkers represent workers at every taconite plant on the Range, except for Northshore Mining in Babbitt
While the Steelworkers have talked with Northshore Mining people in the past year, they have not had an organizing drive there recently, Perpich said.
The Mesabi Nugget plant, owned by Steel Dynamics Inc. of Indiana and using rotary-hearth proprietary technology from Kobe Steel of Japan to produce almost-pure iron nuggets, is the newest enhanced-iron operation on the Range. The plant started operations in January 2010.
Most of the 110 employees at Mesabi Nugget are in production and maintenance and were eligible to take part. “Our employees voted for a non-union operation,” Hansen noted.
The NLRB notified Mesabi Nugget May 7 that a petition had been filed for a unionization vote.
Hansen said he couldn’t speculate on an organizing drive, and that “one of those things we certainly respect is employees’ right to have a vote.”
He added that “our safety performance has been very good.”
An entry-level worker starting at the nugget plant makes about $50,000 annually, not counting benefits. An average hourly employee earns about $70,000 to $75,000 annually in wages, not including benefits.
Workers at Mesabi Nugget have a high-incentives benefits package based on performance and production, along with a stock awards program, profit sharing and 401k retirement plan that “allows every employee to have a stake in the plant,” Hansen said.
Mesabi Nugget is a start-up operation with incentives built in that are tied to performance. “We are not yet profitable,” Hansen said. ”But that’s the direction we are going.”
A maintenance outage for five weeks in April and into part of May was for capital improvements and refractory work. Part of that down time is the continuing work of identifying areas where they can improve their product, he added.
Production of 75,000 tons of iron nuggets in 2010 was doubled by the plant in 2011, to 156,000 tons. All the plant’s production is shipped to its parent company, Steel Dynamics Inc., for use in SDI’s cleaner-burning, electric-arc furnaces.