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Molycorp signs 3-year agreement with union members

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Rare-earth mineral producer Molycorp Inc. said Monday it has signed a three-year labor contract with the United Steelworkers union.

The company said the contract, signed six months before an agreed deadline, will help ensure the smooth startup of a new processing facility next to its open-pit mine in Mountain Pass, Calif., about 15 miles south of Primm. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Almost all of the mine workers commute from Las Vegas.

The company is in the midst of a $781 million project to expand the mine as well as replace almost all of the machiney on site, much of it decades old. The goal is to lower the cost of producing rare earths to a level that not only recoups the investment but leads to profitable operations at prices that compete with Chinese exports. China now accounts for about 97 percent of the world’s rare earth supplies.

Rare earths are a group of 17 minerals used in small quanitities primarily for industrial magnets. The minerals’ properties allow the magnets to perform well at small sizes, making rare earths an essential ingredient in everything from smart phones to laser-guided bombs to hybrid cars.

Shares of Molycorp fell $2.13, or 5.5 percent, to $36.96 during afternoon trading.

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