Steelworkers reach tentative agreement with U.S. Steel

U.S. Steel’s MinnTac facility is the largest active iron ore operation in the United States, “king” of the Iron Range mines of Northern Minnesota. (PHOTO: U.S. Steel)

The United Steelworkers of America and U.S. Steel reached a tentative labor contract agreement on Monday, Oct. 15.

Union leaders will now present the terms of the deal to their membership for a ratification vote. About 14,000 workers at mills and mines across America would work under this contract.

Steelworkers leadership seemed pleased and optimistic in media reports.

This means that the only outstanding Steelworkers negotiation is with ArcelorMittal. This contract only affects one mine on the Iron Range — the Minorca near Virginia, Minnesota. With U.S. Steel and Cleveland-Cliffs making deals, A-M will likely fall in line quickly. These companies are in a very competitive market and no one wants to be shut down amid these current high steel prices.

The story of this process has been the bargaining power that allowed workers to successfully earn their fair share of company profits. Steel companies took a stab at holding down wages and benefits. Unfortunately, the company position unified a political divided labor union membership against them. I still half wonder if U.S. Steel’s and ArcelorMittal’s delays in making a good offer was a test.

If so, the union passed the test. And workers will rightly reap the benefits.

What lies ahead is another strong year of iron ore production amid the steel price boom. That boom will end. Historically low income rates for most Americans will eventually exert gravity on giddy speculation. When it does, Northern Minnesota will be judged for how well it diversified its economy, added value to its iron ore products, and attracted a new, educated workforce in key industries.

But that’s some distant noise over the horizon. Few seem concerned this week.


  1. I remember when that 14000 number was near 100,000. How’s that working out?

  2. Automation, scale of equipment, and size of the operations themselves have radically reduced manpower needs in a few decades. One example: In the ’50s, a big haul truck carried 50 tons. Now, 240-ton trucks are pretty standard. That’s about five truck drivers replaced by one, moving the same amount of material. Same thing has happened in the processing plants, control rooms, furnaces and mills.

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