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400-plus workers face being furloughed as U.S. Steel idles Keewatin plant

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Minnesota has been dealt another jobs blow with news that over 400 people could be temporarily out of work in the Iron Range.

U.S. Steel has announced it will temporarily shut down one of its taconite mining and processing facilities in Keewatin, which according to TribLive is because of falling demand and lower prices.

The move will affect 412 employees working at its Keetac plant, many of whom face being furloughed while the plant is temporarily closed from May 13.

statement from U.S. Steel says the final number left temporarily out of work "will depend on operational and maintenance needs." Its other plant in Minnesota, called Minntac, will continue to operate as normal.

U.S. Steel is the second company to announce plans to idle an Iron Range plant in as many months, as resource giants respond to challenges facing the industry.

Last month, Magnetation LLC said it would "indefinitely idle" its iron ore concentrate facility, also in Keewatin, from the end of March, which will put 49 people out of work.

The company said iron ore prices had fallen by 50 percent in the past 18 months.

Fears that 'temporary' will become 'indefinite'

The Duluth News Tribune said much of the demand for steel from the U.S. is currently being met with foreign-made steel that's made with foreign-mined iron ore, which is contributing to the struggles of U.S. Steel's taconite (low-grade iron ore) plant in Minnesota.

And speaking to the newspaper, State Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam, expressed concerns that the furloughing of the 400-plus workers could become permanent if the industry doesn't improve.

"They used the word idle and they used the word temporary, so that gives me some some hope," he said. "But if the market conditions on the global scale don’t improve, I fear this could be a long-term situation."

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken also expressed his disappointment at the decision by U.S. Steel.

"I hope this situation is temporary, so that we can limit its effect on the families and on the local economy," he said in a press statement. "I plan to talk to U.S. Steel officials very soon to better understand the reasons for this action."

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