MOUNTAIN IRON — Some workers at the Minntac Mine are being called back now to perform some maintenance at the plant, according to a U.S. Steel spokeswoman in Pittsburgh.
“We are currently in the process of calling back some of our employees at Minntac to perform some regularly scheduled maintenance on Line #5. This is work we traditionally would have contracted out, but instead are using our own people,” said Courtney A. Boone in response to an email request by the Mesabi Daily News about well-placed comments and rumors that worker callbacks could happen within 30 days.
However, her comment seemed to lean toward a restart announcement soon.
“As far as a restart date, we have not made an official notification and cannot comment on surplus pellet inventories,” she said.
But a union official said on background that the company has been burning through the excess surplus of pellets, and a startup could come as early as some time in August.
The company announced in April that there would be 700 layoffs at the Mountain Iron plant beginning in
June. Those layoffs were pared in May to about 400.
An oversupply of iron ore and a continued low demand for American-made steel, fueled in great part by a flood of illegal steel imports manufactured with cheap ore, were cited as drastically hurting the nation’s ore and steel industries.
When the layoffs were first signaled, company officials said October would likely be the earliest there would be a callback.
But everyone agreed the situation was fluid, and now the news appears to be flowing much more positive than had been thought just two months ago.
However, the union official said the company is not sharing any information on a possible restart, probably because anything could still happen to delay it.
U.S. Steel idled its Keetac facility on the Range on May 13, forcing the layoff of about 250 workers. The announcement initially called for 421 layoffs, but 175 Steelworkers were kept on the job.
The mining downturn also played a role a shutdown at the Mesabi Nugget plant near Aurora and Mining Resources in Chisholm.
Magnetation LLC announced the closing of Plant 1, its first and least competitive plant, early in the year, which resulted in 41 layoffs at the time. But most, if not all of them, have been re-employed.
The company, however, was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May to restructure financially amid a tough global iron ore and steel marketplace. But there were no resulting layoffs.
Cliffs Natural Resources also felt the downturn, spreading out about 95 layoffs of white collar workers at its three Minnesota plants — United Taconite, Hibbing Taconite and Northshore Mining — and two Michigan facilities.