Steelworkers in Minnesota and Michigan on Thursday voted to ratify a new four-year labor contract with iron ore producer Cleveland-Cliffs.

About 1,800 United Steelworkers (USW) members at Hibbing Taconite and United Taconite on the Iron Range, and at the Tilden pit and plant in Michigan's Upper Peninsula approved the agreement in voting at each of the four USW locals.

“We got a ton of thank you's from the majority of guys that came to vote,” said Joe Fredrickson, president of USW Local 6860 at United Taconite. “There were no ill feelings about the contract. It was not unanimous, but overall it was quite a good outcome.”

The contract provides steelworkers with a signing bonus, wage increases in each year of the contract and pension improvements. Health care benefits and costs were maintained at existing levels. Improvements were also made in vacations for junior employees.

“For us, it was a pretty overwhelming vote,” said Chris Johnson, president of USW Local 2705 at Hibbing Taconite. “It's a great contract. Everybody is happy with it. It's good not just for active workers, but for retirees and for future employees.” 

With ratification, Cleveland-Cliffs becomes the first major domestic iron ore or steel producer to reach agreement with steelworkers on a new labor contract.

“We're hoping it proves to the state that Cliffs stands by its word and that Cliffs is looked at as the best employer on the Range right now,” said Fredrickson. “It's a mutual friendship between the union and the company. We both have the same goal, to make money for the company and to be able to have a good life on the Iron Range.”

The previous contract between the USW and Cleveland-Cliffs expired Oct. 1. After about three weeks of negotiations, a tentative agreement was reached prior to the expiration date.

Contract negotiations that began in early July between the USW, U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal, are ongoing in Pittsburgh.

Founded in 1847, Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. is the largest and oldest independent iron ore mining company in the United States. The company is a major supplier of iron ore pellets to the North American steel industry from its mines and pellet plants in Michigan and Minnesota.