Minntac can dig in on mine expansion

IRON RANGE — U.S. Steel eliminated several dozen jobs at two Iron Range-based taconite plants on Friday morning, the first round of cuts as it struggles to make money.

In an email, U.S Steel’s spokesperson Amanda Malkowski has been “taking the difficult step to eliminate a number of non-represented positions in the United States, including at our Minntac and Keetac facilities.”

Malkowski declined comment on the exact number of local or national cuts. But local sources say that figure ranges between 32 to 37 cuts. Minntac and Keetac employs about 2,200 union and non-union workers in Mountain Iron and Keewatin.

“Unfortunately, this was a necessary step in the execution of our strategy which will deliver cost and capability differentiation to create a world competitive ‘best of both’ footprint,” Malkowski wrote. “It’s always difficult when we have to say goodbye to valued colleagues, but these moves will allow us to better manage our resources amid challenging market conditions.”

The cuts come more than a month after U.S. Steel announced on Oct. 8 that the company examined “organizational structures, work performed, and spending to find opportunities to more efficiently execute our strategy,” Malkowski wrote. “At the same time, we’ve been battling challenging market conditions, which means we need to truly become a leaner, more efficient organization faster.”

In mid-October, U.S. Steel announced it would idle one of its production lines at Minntac due to a change in market conditions, but said layoffs were not expected. No changes were announced at that time for Keetac. “In order to reflect changing market conditions and the need to adjust our raw materials accordingly, we plan to take advantage of this situation by performing additional maintenance on our five Minntac agglomerators for enhanced reliability in preparation for improved market conditions,” US. Steel told the Star Tribune. “We do not anticipate any employment impacts as a result of this action.”

Last week, U.S. Steel reported its third quarter performance that showed a net loss of $35 million, a substantial decline from $321 million in the third quarter of 2018. The company also announced a five-cent per share dividend to stockholders. “While market headwinds persist, we continue to focus on what we can control, including re-scoping our asset revitalization investments and reducing fixed costs,” said David B. Burritt, president and CEO of U.S. Steel, told investors in a call.

It’s reported loss was the company’s first since President Donald J. Trump enacted 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and aluminum in 2018. Steel prices across the industry have steadily declined in recent months, leading to lower third quarter earnings, though executives at Nucor and Cleveland-Cliffs have suggested to investors that current pricing has bottomed out and are a temporary blip in the market.

Dan Pierce, president of the United Steelworkers Local 2660, told reporters that he declined to comment.

United Steelworkers Local 1938 was unavailable as of press time.

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