Cliffs, Steelworkers agree to keep talkingCliffs Natural Resources and the United Steelworkers of America have agreed to keep talking, and stay on the job, past today’s expiration of the current union contract.
By: By John Myers , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
DULUTH, Minn. — Cliffs Natural Resources and the United Steelworkers of America have agreed to keep talking, and stay on the job, past today’s expiration of the current union contract.
Cliffs and USW leaders announced Friday afternoon that they have agreed to a short-term “rolling extension” of their labor contract until a full agreement is reached.
Both sides have agreed that the union will not strike, and the company will not lock workers out, until 48 hours after providing written notice to the other party.
The deal affects about 455 workers at United Taconite in Eveleth, 675 at Hibbing Taconite and 1,300 at Cliff’s Empire and Tilden operations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The extension will keep the mines operating while negotiations continue. The company began this round of collective bargaining with the United Steelworkers in early May. Cliffs stated that it remains “committed to the negotiation process and intends to reach a fair and equitable agreement.”
Earlier this week Cliffs moved temporary trailers onto the Hibbing Taconite facility, which union members said were ready to feed replacement workers. The company vowed to use replacement workers if the union struck.
Union members at Cliffs’ properties already have approved a strike if negotiations fail. (Cliffs also owns and operates non-union NorthShore Taconite in Silver Bay and Babbitt.)
Meanwhile the union reported no agreement with the owners of Minnesota’s other taconite plants — U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal — where workers’ contracts also expire today. U.S. Steel owns both Minntac in Mountain Iron and Keetac in Keewatin with a combined 1,620 union members. ArcelorMittal owns the Minorca mine and processing center outside Virginia with about 300 union members.
Workers at the various ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel facilities have not yet voted to approve a strike. In statements Friday, union leaders were hopeful that a new contract would be reached with U.S. Steel. But they expressed doubts a deal could be struck with ArcelorMittal.
“Yesterday (ArcelorMittal) took some steps forward, including backing off of their demand for no pensions for new hires,” the union reported Friday morning in a letter to members. “But we remain far apart.”
The Steelworkers later announced they would not immediately strike against ArcelorMittal even if no contract agreement is reached by Saturday’s deadline. It’s not clear what that means, however. The two sides could keep talking beyond the deadline, and keep working, or the company could lock union workers out of their plants.
“Your Negotiating Committee has decided that our best course of action at this point in negotiations with ArcelorMittal is for all of us to continue working while we continue to press forward in an effort to reach an acceptable contract. Whether the company will agree to our offer to continue to work while we continue to bargain in good faith or instead choose to lock us out remains unknown at this time,” a letter to members stated Friday afternoon. “We are not taking the strike option off the table — we are saying only that it is in our best interest to not call a strike at this time.”
The labor unrest threatens to upset what have been good days for Minnesota’s taconite manufacturers, with production and profits way up in recent years. The taconite industry also has seen stable and even increasing employment and ample overtime for union members.
The companies want to cut labor costs, especially in health care, and have asked for cuts in retiree benefits in what they say is a critical effort to remain competitive in the global iron and steel industry.
The three negotiations affect nearly 30,000 Steelworkers nationwide, most in steel mills in eastern and Midwest states.
The last major strike on the Iron Range, which lasted 138 days, was in 1977. The last industrywide Steelworkers strike was in 1959.