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Hibtac to idle operations amidst COVID-19 pandemic

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HIBBING, MN -- Another round of layoffs on the Iron Range. This brings the total number of people laid off to nearly 1,500 in local mines alone.

Hibbing Taconite will idle its operations on Sunday, May 3rd. About 650 workers will be laid off as a result of the outage. ArcelorMittal and the United Steelworkers are working together on a layoff minimization plan.

HibTac is the third mine in the Northland to announce it will be idling. It was announced earlier this month that U.S. Steel's Keewatin Taconite and Cleveland-Cliffs' Northshore Mining would also be idling, citing challenging times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vicki Hagberg is the President of the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce. She says mining impacts many areas of the Iron Range economy.

That includes direct mining jobs, vendor/supplier/contractor jobs, and then there’s the indirect impact that effects money being spent within the local economy.

Hagberg says while the area has dealt with the boom and bust of the industry for more than 100 years, that doesn’t make it any easier and the impact is just as great.

"Each mining job has a spin-off of about two other jobs in our economy on the Iron Range. So, if we have 1,000 jobs that are lost due to mining layoffs we would expect to see another 2,000 jobs on top of that. So 3,000 total lost in our community," Hagberg said.

Hagberg says the Chamber is advocating for local businesses during this time and meeting with legislators to make sure they understand the impact this type of layoff has on the community.

Meanwhile, United Steelworkers Local 2705 Union President Chris Johnson, who represents HibTac employees, says his members have shown mixed reactions to the news.

He says they’ve been discussing the possibility of this happening for a while now, but he didn’t expect so many workers to be laid off.

He also mentioned his disappointment and frustration in how the announcement was made. Johnson says he found out about the shutdown at the same time his members did. And that was on social media instead of through the company.

Nonetheless, his focus is on making sure union workers are prepared for what’s to come. That includes applying for unemployment.

As for what his members are saying about the layoffs, Johnson said it has been a mixed bag of reactions.

"We've got some high-risk people with this COVID, according to the CDC, that are kind of at ease from being able to be at home and still have some income come in. Then we have the staunch, I want to work. I've worked my whole life, I want to work," Johnson said.

Johnson says the union will be meeting with the company Wednesday to discuss the next steps. That includes who will continue working and who will be laid off. The company plans to return to operation on July 6th.

Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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