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USW, Cliffs ratify new contract

A haul truck carrying more than 240 tons of taconite ore takes a load to the crusher in the Thunderbird Mine of United Taconite. (2014 file / News Tribune)

Members of the United Steelworkers union voted by a 10-to-1 margin this week to ratify a new four-year contract with mining company Cleveland-Cliffs.

The new four-year master agreement, which takes effect immediately, includes  wage increases in each year of the contract, maintains high quality, affordable health care coverage and strengthens retirement benefits for the union’s 1,850 members at four iron ore mines in Michigan and Minnesota, said USW in a news release on Friday.

The previous agreement, which was negotiated during a difficult period for the iron ore and steel industries, contained a three-year wage freeze.

“In 2015, these workers saw that the industry was struggling and agreed to make sacrifices so that this company could make it through the tough times,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “Cliffs clearly recognized that, and we look forward to building on our relationship in the coming years.”

The USW began local-level talks with Cliffs over the summer and opened bargaining in early September on a new master agreement. The new contract replaces the three-year agreement that expired on Oct. 1.

“We were pleased we could work with Cliffs to reach an agreement that was fair to both sides,” said USW District 11 Director Emil Ramirez, the chair of the union’s bargaining committee. “This contract puts the company in a position to succeed and ensures that the workforce will be able to share in that success.”

The contract covers workers at the company’s United Taconite and Hibbing Taconite mines as well as the Tilden and Empire Mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.