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Cliffs’ employees prepare for layoffs, Babbitt community rallies behind miners

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BABBITT, MN -- Extraordinary disruptions in manufacturing and steel production due to COVID-19 has caused Cleveland-Cliffs to scale back it’s operations. 

That means laying off nearly 500 employees at the company’s Northshore mining operation in both Silver Bay and Babbitt. 

Employees in Babbitt said they were told beginning Saturday, April 18, they won't be going to work. 

Now, the community is rallying behind them. 

“It’s just a tight-knit, small-town like most of the towns on the Iron Range,” said Edward Zupancich who owns Zup's Market in Babbitt. 

It’s also a mining town. 

“It is the local economy. So mining in northern Minnesota is the economy.“

Zupancich said he has a good pulse on the community. When layoffs were announced he started hearing from locals. 

“My neighbors are miners and they’re concerned a little bit, but not too much. They know that it’s just a matter of economics and supply and demand." 

Cleveland-Cliffs said the coronavirus pandemic has caused steel customers to rationalize supply making iron ore less of a demand, but this isn’t the first time. Back in 2015 illegal steel dumping closed mines and left Iron Range workers unemployed. 

Allen Pangrac was one of those workers.

“It’s a little scary of course because it’s the uncertainty but I’ve been through this, this is probably my 4th time, so you just have to take it with a grain of salt and say 'when I get up tomorrow morning I’ll do something.'" 

Pangrac has worked for Northshore Mining for 20 years and said once the pandemic hit he expected the industry to suffer. 

“You can see it coming. If you listen to the news and understand that the steel demand is going down and the steel mills are shutting down or blast furnaces. All the handwriting was on the wall.” 

Cliffs said it plans on bringing workers back in August. 
But until then, both Pangrac and Zupancich are remaining optimistic. 

“Everybody keep their chin up and don’t get too worried,” said Pangrac. 

 “I think they’ll be okay," said Zupancich. "I hope they are. And we’ll just go through it with them because we’re part of the community.” 

Cleveland-Cliffs isn’t the only company being impacted by this health pandemic. ArcelorMittal and US Steel have both had to make adjustments to day-to-day operations. 

While those companies haven’t made temporary cuts in our area yet, local union representatives we spoke to said they’re anticipating it could happen, but they remain hopeful they’ll stay on the job. 

Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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