MARQUETTE — Local steel workers and community members were mining for answers to some very important questions Thursday morning in Marquette. Many were waiting to hear the latest on the Empire Mine.

Cliffs Natural Resources CEO Lourenco Goncalves spoke at length of the ups and downs of the steel industry, and how the company is staying strong against foreign competitors.

No matter how good the company is doing, though, Empire Mine is still set to close by the end of this year…a loss of about 400 local jobs.

Goncalves says, “Unfortunately it’s a combination of iron ore in the ground, and the economy of extracting iron ore at that stage… So in the next couple of months, maybe less, we are going to start to inform the employees officially that the Empire production and partnership is coming to an end. This should not come with any surprise to the area. I said that last year.”

Before the meeting started USW retirees stood in front of the Holiday Inn in attempts to bring awareness to their latest challenge…a 70% increase in their insurance rates.

USW Retiree Ann Beauchaine says, “The guys and women at the mine have been working under the old contract. The old one expired on October 1st. There have been some talks, but as of right now no more talks are scheduled. So our rates increased because that contract hadn’t been reached.”

Goncalves is more focused on talks between Cliffs and the active members of the USW.

“The two sides, Cliffs and the Union,” the CEO added, “need to listen to each other a little better. As far as the retirees, they don’t have a seat at the table.”

Beauchaine says that the retirees hope everyone will come back to the table and find a solution for active employees and retirees alike. She also encourages active employees to stay patient during a possibly stressful time.

The CEO said that even though there is an impending closing of the Empire Mine, there is an impending opening of United Taconite in Minnesota, which would give Upper Peninsula workers a chance to relocate for work if they choose to. However there is no date set just yet for the closing of Empire Mine, nor the opening of United Taconite.