Cliffs layoffs on iron range begin Sunday

By Adelle Whitefoot

MARQUETTE – Extended layoffs at Cliffs Natural Resources’ local mines begin Sunday.

About 300 workers will be laid off, with more than half – about 160 – as voluntary layoffs, said Dale Hemmila, Cliffs North America director of public affairs. Layoffs are a result of increased iron ore pricing volatility and reductions in demand for steel in North America.

“It’s an agreement we have with the United Steelworkers union,” Hemmila said. “It allows for some of the senior people to take a voluntary layoff and it allows some of the junior people, who would ordinarily be laid off, to continue working.”

Those who are on voluntary layoffs will be able to collect unemployment and sub-pay for the summer, Hemmila said. The layoffs will last 18 weeks and during that time, the Empire Mine will be on a temporary shutdown.

“Some employees will be called back after five weeks to do some maintenance work at Tilden and Empire and then we anticipate that Empire will resume operations in early August,” Hemmila said. “That’s the plan right now.”

Cliffs has a range-wide displacement agreement with the United Steelworkers of America Local 4950 union, so some of the employees being laid off will come from Tilden and some from Empire, but Tilden will continue its full operation, Hemmila said.

“Also because of that agreement, for example, if an employee at Empire is senior to an employee at Tilden, they can actually bump into the Tilden work pool,” Hemmila said.

Last year, Cliffs laid off 245 employees for the summer and in 2009 there were 70 employees laid off. There are 1,645 workers total at the Tilden and Empire mines.

The Tilden Mine produced 7.6 million tons of iron ore in 2012 and the Empire Mine produced 3.2 million tons.