December 30, 2016 02:10 PM
The Christmas lights on Keewatin's streets seemed to shine a little brighter Thursday night after news circulated about Keetac's impending restart.
Cliff Tobey, president of United Steelworkers Local 2660, said the call was as much of a surprise to him as anyone else.
"It kind of overwhelmed me," Tobey said. "It was something I didn't expect. We've been out for 19 months."
More than a year and a half of an idled mine has scattered former Keetac employees around the country. Tobey said his phone had been ringing off the hook all afternoon Thursday.
"We had a lot of events happen over the last 19 months, if you go back to the unemployment extensions, and all the different things," Tobey said. "I spent more time at the Capitol a lot of times than I spent back here."
So he is relieved they won't have to rely on legislative action for their livelihood in the coming months. It was welcome news for Kevin Noonan, another steelworker, too.
"It's been slow. Nothing else in this town besides this mine," Noonan said.
Noonan was transferred to Minntac almost a year ago, but he lives in Keewatin, so he said he's looking forward to the shorter commute.
There isn't an exact start date planned yet, but Tobey said he think the company wants to move quickly.
"I always knew the plant was going to run again, the question for me was always when," Tobey said.
But even he admitted that he didn't think this would be the time.
"There's no one word to sum up or even a paragraph to sum up what the last 19 months have been like," he said. "You learn a lot from these kind of things. It's something we won't forget, but it's also something we don't want to ever have to redo if we don't have to."
Plus, he and Noonan hope it will boost the next generation of steelworkers too.
"At least the young people got some hope too, maybe get a job," Noonan said. "Both mines right now are going to be short people, so they'll both have to hire."
Keetac employed about 400 people when the mine closed in May 2015, and Tobey said it remains to be seen how many will come back and how many new workers will have to be hired.
"People are excited. I'm happy, I couldn't be happier," Tobey said. "This has been tough on our members. We just want to get back to some kind of normalcy, and hopefully we have a future that looks a lot brighter than the last 19 months."
Updated: December 30, 2016 02:10 PM
Created: December 29, 2016 09:35 PM
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