Largest Iron Range mine lays off 590

UPDATE: Friday morning information has been added. Also, correction to note that the layoffs begin in 2-3 weeks, and will likely last longer than 2-3 weeks.

The Mesabi Daily News reports that U.S. Steel’s MinnTac plant will lay off 590 workers in 2-3 weeks because of the economy. MinnTac is the Iron Range’s largest mine and, until now, the one that seemed to be weathering the storm best. This is a temporary layoff but like Keewatin Taconite, U.S. Steel’s other Range mine, represents an indefinite idling until market conditions improve. Now every Iron Range taconite plant has taken or is planning cost saving measures involving layoffs. If the economy does not improve in 2009 expect a very lean Christmas up north. The steel industry seems to girding for better times after 2010 which is the only encouraging news I’ve heard so far.

UPDATE: The morning papers have more information. The Star Tribune talked to a U.S. Steel representative. Weakness in demand for steel pipe is part of the equation here. The Mesabi Daily News has a much deeper story quoting many of the local steelworker leaders and unemployment officials. The temporary nature of these layoffs is stressed, but it seems unlikely that the market factors that caused these layoffs will end soon.

UPDATE 2: Check out this quote from the Mesabi Daily News story (emphasis mine):

John Rebrovich, United Steelworkers District 11 subdistrict director on the Range, said that “we’ve got to hope and pray” that the economic stimulus package signed into law this week by President Barack Obama works its way through to help workers here, and that steel for stimulus infrastructure projects starts being used more.

Nationwide, steel mills were running at about 95 percent in October, and now about four months later, he has heard figures of about 40 percent steel production in the U.S. “This crazy economy,” he added.

In times past, workers on the Range usually could see a recession far enough ahead to prepare for a downturn. But with the current crisis, “this one blindsided us,” Rebrovich said.

This is going to be a rough ride.

UPDATE 3: The Duluth News Tribune offers their similar take, talking to a waitress whose husband works at MinnTac. Minnesota Public Radio also covered the news. I think everyone on the Range knows someone who works at MinnTac.

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