U.S. Steel cuts jobs at Minntac, Keetac

Thousands of tons of rock and dust are blasted into the air as Minntac opens a new section of their pit for loading in June 2019.

IRON RANGE — U.S. Steel eliminated several dozen jobs at two Iron Range-based taconite plants on Friday morning.

In an email, U.S Steel’s spokesperson Amanda Malkowski said the company 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 to comment on the exact number of job cuts. But local sources say that figure ranges between 32 to 37 positions, some of which were salaried. 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.”

State Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, said over the phone Friday night that she just learned of the news earlier that day. “I’m disappointed the Range Delegation did not receive a heads up on this,” Sandstede said. The delegation also includes State Sen. David Tomassoni and State Rep. Dave Lislegard, both DFLers.

“I’m deeply saddened for the individuals impacted by this decision and for their families,” Sandstede added. “I suspect this action comes as a result of a downturn in the industry and I am concerned about what that means moving forward.”

Also on Friday night, St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Jugovich said he “feels for the families” in his 7th District in Hibbing and across the Iron Range. He continued, “They’re looking at losing their jobs before the holidays and that’s unbelievable. Losing a job is always disheartening and, moving forward, I’m wondering what’s in store for the rest of the employees. Hopefully, this will be the last of cuts.”

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.

The cuts are happening 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 the company said that 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 showing 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,” David B. Burritt, president and CEO of U.S. Steel, told investors.

U.S. Steel’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 throughout 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.


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