Clock ticking on mining contract negotiations

Time is running out on the United Steelworkers Union and five Iron Range taconite operations to hammer out a new contract.

Union officials are negotiating separate labor agreements in Pittsburgh with Cliffs Natural Resources, U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal. The three companies operate the six big traditional iron ore mines and taconite plants on the Range. Five of those facilities are unionized, employing nearly 3,000 union members.

Wayne Ranick, a spokesman for the Steelworkers, said unions at the Cliffs operations, including Hibbing Taconite and United Taconite in Eveleth, have authorized strikes. And Cliffs spokeswoman Sandy Karnowski says the company is preparing replacement workers. Strike authorization votes have not taken place for U.S. Steel or ArcelorMittal.

Union officials say the most contentious discussions are with ArcelorMittal. In an update to members today, the union said the company has backed off a demand to eliminate pensions for new hires, but that the two sides remain far apart.

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