Iron ore mines at full production after strike

Michigan State Roundup

Published April 1, 1991  | April 1991 issue

Two Upper Peninsula (U.P.) iron ore mines that account for about 25 percent of all U.S. iron ore production are operating at full speed following a four-month strike last year by nearly 2,000 miners.

Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., manager and minority owner of the Tilden and Empire mines near Ishpeming and the area's largest employer—18 percent of direct and indirect employment in Marquette County—settled the strike in early December.

But the euphoria of that settlement is somewhat tempered by the overall economic climate.

"Business was extraordinarily slow during the strike, so to a degree there's been an increase," says Darlene Inch, executive director of the Greater Ishpeming Area Chamber of Commerce. "But people didn't go out and buy big ticket items as they often do when a strike ends." Inch suggests that the caution exhibited by consumers in Ishpeming, a community of about 7,000 people, reflects nationwide concerns—effects of the Persian Gulf war and fears of a long recession. But Ishpeming city manager Raymond France is optimistic: "Everything is coming back to normal."

Don Ryan, public affairs officer at Cleveland-Cliffs in Ishpeming says, "We're very watchful because steel production is down." But he adds that following the strike the mines were operating at capacity levels filling pre-strike orders for the raw materials needed in steel production.

Although the U.S. Department of Commerce's Industrial Outlook for 1991 cites analysts' predictions that the steel industry will see a recovery this year, industry figures for the first seven weeks of 1991 show U.S. raw steel production down 2 million tons from the same period last year. In a speech to U.S. and Canadian shipping associations last month, Cleveland Cliffs Chairman and CEO M. Thomas Moore said, "...the partners in the five North American mines we manage initially nominated 35.7 million tons of pellet production for 1991, which is 96 percent capacity." He cautioned however that the figures will change if raw steel production does not rebound.

Thus, while the mines and community are relieved to see the strike settled, the broader issues of recession and the steel market loom large in Ishpeming's economic future.

With Cleveland Cliffs' 1989 total payroll reaching $65 million and an added $100 million of services, supplies and equipment purchased locally, the region's economic vitality depends largely on the success of the mines. France says, "We don't know what we'd do if we didn't have them."

Kathy Cobb