300 MN steelworkers await update as contract talks break down

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A breakdown in negotiations between the union representing steelworkers and one of the largest mining companies in the world could have an impact on hundreds of Minnesotans.

ArcelorMittal owns the Minorca iron ore mine near Virginia, up on Minnesota's Iron Range, where about 300 workers are employed – and worried about possible layoffs.

Those employees – along with about 2,000 others, who work for different companies at separate mines – have continued to work while negotiations between their union representatives and mining companies continued.

But on Saturday, the United Steelworkers union said ArcelorMittal management "walked away from the table," meaning the sides are currently not actively discussing a new contract for the employees.

An ArcelorMittal spokesperson confirmed the update to the Duluth News Tribune, but said the company "remains committed to the productive dialogue" that had occurred.

What's it mean?

The workers' previous contract expired Sept. 1, WDIO reported, and the union had said workers would stay on the job as long as both sides were negotiating.

The negotiators will return to their plants and provide updates to the 300 workers about what happens next, the union release says.

The talks come at a difficult time for the industry; with steel prices in a slump, Minnesota has seen a rash of plant idlings and layoffs in recent months.

Aaron Brown, who keeps a news blog on Northland happenings, said in a post the Minorca Mine is the smallest on the Iron Range, but added the "tone" of the talks carries over to negotiations with the other mine companies.

Included in that is U.S. Steel, which employs 1,500 at its Minntac facility in Mountain Iron and nearly 500 at Keetac in Keewatin. They've also remained on the job since the contract ended Sept. 1, and both sides appear to still be talking as of a Sept. 10 update.

Meanwhile, negotiations between Cliffs Natural Resources (which operates Hibbing Taconite and United Taconite) and union representatives began Thursday in Pittsburgh, according to the union.

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