Glimmers of hope in Steelworkers negotiations

Late last week, the United Steelworkers reached an agreement with Cleveland-Cliffs on a labor contract. Broadly speaking, the talks between Cliffs and the USW seemed to go well. The company acknowledged the improving state of the domestic iron ore and steel business, and shared some of the success with its workers.

However, more contentious negotiations remain in progress for the union’s talks with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal. Those larger steel companies proposed cost increases to medical benefits that the union found unacceptable.

Yesterday, the Northwest Indiana Times reported that U.S. Steel had backed off the worst of those proposals. Steelworkers officials seemed encouraged, arguing that the union’s solidarity had been the key to this development. Nevertheless, they said they remain short of an agreement they can take back to workers.

Steelworkers at U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal properties voted to authorize a strike last month. Here on the Mesabi Iron Range, those votes were unanimous.

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed that a strike was not just possible, but likely. Workers seem a bit more relaxed now that Cliffs cut their labor deal, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

U.S. Steel owns Minntac in Mountain Iron and Keewatin Taconite.

ArcelorMittal owns the Minorca Mine in Virginia.

Cleveland-Cliffs owns United Taconite in Eveleth and Northshore Mining in Silver Bay and Babbitt. Northshore is non-union.

Cliffs also operates Hibbing Taconite, which works under a Cliffs-negotiated contract. However, ArcelorMittal is the majority owner of HibTac. In less than a year, Cliffs will resign from its management of the plant, leaving ArcelorMittal and fellow minority owner U.S. Steel to devise a new management scheme for Hibbing Taconite.

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