U.S. Steel, union to resume talks this week

United Steelworkers of AmericaThe U.S. Steel Corporation and the United Steelworkers resume talks this week in Pittsburgh after a cooling off period. Union officials say the company has made a new offer and that they will review and discuss the offer at these new meetings.

The union has said that U.S. Steel has been asking for serious concessions in this round of negotiations as the American company seeks to find footing amid a fast-changing and perilous market for steel.

From the USW:

As you know, our discussions with U.S. Steel over the past six months have involved continued demands for deep concessions from both active and retired workers and their families. We know that our industry is in the midst of a serious crisis brought on by unfair trade and global overcapacity, but we do not believe that workers and their families should be forced to bear the brunt of these problems.

U.S. Steel owns Minnesota’s largest taconite mine at Minntac in Mountain Iron. It also owns Keewatin Taconite, which has been idled for several months and will remain down through the first quarter of 2016. U.S. Steel also co-owns Hibbing Taconite.

All of the contracts at Iron Range mines are up this year. Other mines run by Cliffs Natural Resources and Arcelor-Mittal are also negotiating. Typically the union locals negotiate for similar contracts at all Iron Range facilities, which means that labor disputes tend to be regional, not localized. One Iron Range mine is not unionized, Cliffs’ Northshore Mining in Babbitt and Silver Bay, but that, too, remains idled at least through March.

U.S. Steel was once the biggest steelmaker in the world, but now ranks outside the top ten. The company was instrumental in the development of Minnesota’s iron ranges, especially the Mesabi which is now the only operating iron range left in the state. Now U.S. Steel, like most U.S. steelmakers, is struggling to compete with much cheaper iron ore and steel products from places like China, Brazil and Australia.

Iron mining was once the profession shared by a majority of working men in Iron Range towns. Now it is more technological, advanced kind of work, featuring high paying jobs for far fewer people. Nevertheless, Iron Range mines will likely have to change to survive the next few years, and that will likely include efficiencies that once again reduce the number of people working in mining.


  1. I am sure that US Steel has no ownership in Hibbing Taconite Co. unless the change has been made in the recent past.

  2. Within a few years, total employment will be in the dozens, not the hundreds or thousands, for each mine.

    The future of mining, based on what is happening at mines in other countries, is for highly robotic operations, with multiple large machines being overseen and operated not by traditional miners but remotely by a small handful of people with backgrounds in information technology, each running several machines, and perhaps located as far away as Des Moines, Dallas, or Delhi. Even if they are located locally, the lack of qualified local operators with enough education and training likely would mean many operators would come from elsewhere. Otherwise, the only local jobs would be a handful of mechanics (most of those also requiring a background in IT,) maintenance, and security people, and three or four people in a control tower watching for problems and manning a kill switch. This is true for both iron and non-ferrous mining, to the detriment of ideas that the future of the Range can be insured by mining. The mines will run around the clock when mineral prices warrant it, and shut down completely when prices fall below profit levels, “banking” the minerals in the ground against future higher prices.

    So in the future even for mining will be high tech, requiring considerable technical training. No one who failed their math proficiency test in high school need apply, eliminating over half the high school grads in Northeastern Minnesota, and workers will require training at least at the technical college level , if not beyond. The golden age of the blue collar workforce continues to disappear into history, leaving only memories. Survival of Range communities depends on adaptation to this trend.

    I would refer you to articles Aaron has published in the past about the mining industry in Australia, although the phenomenon is also operating in Brazil and in a few developing countries.

    • Independent says

      I would venture a guess that you either are not involved in any mining or don’t live on the Iron Range or perhaps both. The days of graduating high school and getting a mining job were over years ago. Most mining companies require at a minimum a two year technical degree for any job position. The Iron Range produces plenty of great graduates from out local colleges that are more than capable of working with current and future mining/industrial technologies.

      • The days are over, but the dream dies hard, as the supporters of non-ferrous mining have shown in their arguments for Polymet and other projects.

        It is true that there are many fine grads from Range schools who are able to compete, but unfortunately a quick glance at the results of state education testing shows that over 50% of high school grads are not competent in math, a basic skill necessary for most technical careers. The Range is by no means unique in this, with results in Duluth even worse, and results in a good share of school systems in the state in the same range or worse.

        This is actually a national problem, in that there is a major disconnect between the skills schools are providing and the skills needed to thrive in 21st century job markets. As the need for workers without high level technical skills collapses, very large percentages of our kids are not prepared to make the leap to the jobs that are available, and end up left behind in low paying McJobs in the service economy.

        The only thing specific to the Range in all this is the ongoing fantasy by many Rangers that somehow we are going to return to the good old days, that non-ferrous mining will create the needed jobs, or that tariff changes will somehow bring back the past. All are, unfortunately, pipe dreams, which the emerging technical changes in mining itself will make even worse.

  3. I think Gerald’s, and Aaron’s, and about a thousand others who have been screaming into the wind is simply that mining related employment will shrink. Even if all the projects on the wish list were permitted tomorrow they would not replace what was lost at LTV. And, the current system has put almost all the eggs into that basket. It’s not just about whether you support it or not, it is that it will not, in the long term, be THE major option. That debate is rarely allowed in public, and these comment sections are a perfect example. If you do not fully follow the party line about mining, you are a heretic. The same people and the same ideas get recycled over and over. For example, in talking with an owner of one of the only locally owned forest product operations, we discussed whether a ten year plan to create one or two furniture product operations would be viable. Being a forest ecologist, I know we have the wood and the industry infrastructure to assist startups, but I don’t know the industry. He does and said yes, it could. I asked UMD’S economist to add that to prospective models. He thanked me saying that for years, he had been repeating about diversification until he was blue in the face, but the panels represented current or specific interests. My point is that it is also about where we put our mental energy and the lost opportunity cost of the political and social energy all going to maintaining or increasing mining no matter the cost. The insanity of some things, such as chipping 30 year old red pine to feed the chip boilers in Hibbing and Virginia is not lost on everyone from DNR foresters to private managers. The range politicians got their boilers, but they never had a plan to fuel them properly. Thus, instead of willow and tag alder, we fuel them with everything but the intended fuels. This after an entire feasibility study was produced showing it’s sustainability based on the model of Scandinavia. The changes Gerald mentions are coming and quickly. You will not have production truck drivers within a decade. Other positions will be replaced by circuitry. It will happen. The industry, after years of free ecological services, is losing its social license. There are other opportunities if they are allowed to exist. I doubt they will if the same group of people gets recycled into the great buddy system at IRRRB and the other government institutions.

    • I agree that increasing the local timber based economy would be wonderful and that diversification overall is much needed and overdue. I want to promote growth and technical progress in all sectors of our local Iron Range economy including mining.

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