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Back to work: Hibbing Taconite to restart after months-long shutdown

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HIBBING, MN -- It has been almost three months since ArcelorMittal announced it would be idling Hibbing Taconite leaving around 650 people laid off.

But now, some good news, as employees return to the Hibbing mine beginning Saturday night. As hundreds of people head back to work, there's a big focus on safety.

United Steelworkers Local 2705 Union President, Chris Johnson, has been working with Hibtac management to put proper protocols in place as union members return to work.

That includes following all CDC and state guidelines, staggering start times and break times, extra cleaning, limiting the number of people in vehicles, and ensuring social distancing is possible throughout the facility, among other things.

Johnson told CBS 3 the union and facility management will continue to upgrade precautions and procedures as the virus is ever-changing.

“We are preparing for the possibility of a positive case but hoping we can make it through this without," said Johnson in a statement to CBS 3. "We are all hopeful that there is no spike in our nation that will affect the industry anymore.”

The first week back Hibbing taconite will be ramping up for the first pellets, which should be coming out by Sunday of the following week.

With Hibbing Taconite restarting, some businesses within the vendor/supplier community will breathe a sigh of relief as well.

According to the Iron Mining Association, iron mining is the largest private industry in the region, generating about $3 billion in economic activity each year.

It also creates a trickle-down effect, as data shows one mining job creates an estimated two more jobs in the vendor/supplier community.

Kelsey Johnson, President of the Iron Mining Association (IMA) said as the mining industry started to idle across the region some of the vendor/supplier industry had to tighten their belts as well.

She added, getting the news that Hibbing taconite is restarting production is a good sign for a lot of people.

“I think when any mine comes back online it’s always a positive sign," said Johnson. "It shows that the economic activity is picking up, it shows that there is demand for the product, and it shows that the steel market is also experiencing that same demand.”

Johnson added, despite what has been a less than ideal few months for the economy the industry is actually pretty strong.

“If there’s no demand for steel, there’s no demand iron. So, as long as we’ve got that demand we’re in a good position. So, I think overall we’re sitting okay, and I think that the mines are doing okay,” said Johnson.

Hibbing Taconite wasn't the only mine impacted by COVID-19.

According to Minntac's union president, the U.S. Steel facility will have all involuntary layoffs back to work come Monday. That means they’ll be at near-full capacity.

Meanwhile, Keetac, a U.S. Steel facility in Keewatin, is idled indefinitely.
CBS 3 spoke to the union president there earlier this week. He said he’s in communication with U.S. Steel weekly and so far they don’t know when they could return to work.

Cleveland-Cliffs did not get back to us by news time, but in April company spokespeople said they anticipated bringing workers back to Northshore Mining sometime in August.

Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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