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Cliffs idling Northshore Mining until market improves; 500-plus workers affected

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Another Minnesota iron ore operation will temporarily idle starting next month.

Cliffs Natural Resources announced Tuesday it will be idling a second operation starting Dec. 1. The Northshore Mining operation, located in Babbit and Silver Bay, will temporarily idle through the first quarter of 2016, Cliffs says.

The operation employs 540 people, with Cliffs saying it will "maintain minimal staffing during the temporary idle for basic maintenance duties and for on-going work to support the DR-grade pellet trials."

Most of the employees will be laid off, WDIO reports, with Minnesota Brown noting about 500 employees will be affected. Northshore is the only taconite operation in Minnesota that isn't unionized, reports note.

The company says existing demand will be met from its current iron ore inventory, and operations at Hibbing Taconite – its third operation in Minnesota – will continue.

"As soon as the unfairly traded steel problem subsides and domestic steel production recovers to normal levels, we will be able to immediately ramp up iron ore pellet production by bringing idled capacity back to operation," Cliffs' President and CEO Lourenco Goncalves said in the announcement.

This is the latest blow to Minnesota's mining industry in recent months as demands for U.S.-produced iron ore dwindles in the face of competition from foreign suppliers.

These challenges have forced Cliffs and other mining operations in the state to idle their plants, resulting in hundreds of workers being laid off.

Cliffs idled its United Taconite operation, laying off most of its 420 workers over the summer. On Tuesday, the company said the plant will idle through the first quarter of 2016 as well.

And two other production plants shut down in May for two full years, putting 200 people out of work.

Lawmakers react to plant idling

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who has been outspoken about "defeating" the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, released a statement Tuesday saying these layoffs are further proof that the United States "is incapable of effectively enforcing trade laws and agreements to protect American workers."

Nolan called the layoffs of "several hundred" Northshore Mining workers "terrible news – especially as we approach the holidays," adding thoughts are with the families and businesses affected and he will assure that "every means of help available will be forthcoming without delay."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has endorsed the idea of a special legislative session to extend unemployment benefits for about 600 steel workers who were laid off earlier this year, the Star Tribune reports. He sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton supporting the idea.

Dayton told reporters Tuesday that the extension of unemployment benefits is worthy of a special session.

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