Hot battles, high times on the Iron Range

There’s a lot of Iron Range news going on these days. I’ve got more to post, but it’s a busy day.

I’ve already written about the Capitol controversy over the GOP raid of an IRRRB economic development fund last week. This drama will continue all the way to the close of the session. MinnPost had a good story from last Friday’s House Jobs and Economic Development Committee. In short, the Iron Rangers have a good argument without the necessary votes. This will require a life line call to the governor.

Environmental groups have dropped a lawsuit against the IRRRB over a loan granted to Polymet. This doesn’t get nonferrous mining closer to its permits but shows that the legislative winds are behind mining for the time being.

Speaking of mining, Big Daddy Taconite is doing well. The big city Strib has written up a fine notice. A notable excerpt:

Peter Kakela, an expert on the global iron ore industry at Michigan State University, said companies are selling taconite at four times what it cost to produce, a return on investment unheard of in the past when profits of a few dollars per ton were common.

“For years — decades, even — the price hovered in that $30 to $35-per-ton range. . And now someone is paying $200. They’ve never seen anything like this before,” Kakela said. “There’s your incentive for all the expansions people are talking about. That’s why everything is running at full capacity.”

Like Beanie Babies at their peak. Wowzers.

Meantime, Friday brought the Iron Range Solidarity labor rally on the steps of the Hibbing Memorial Building. The Hibbing Daily Tribune produced this video with its Sunday story about the event (subscription only):

All of this points to the central conundrum for the Iron Range. The numbing effect of a good year of taconite mining is settling in. Policy is not moving. So we conduct theater. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good theater. But these are some of the thoughts I have as I polish my column for next Sunday…


  1. The front and center anger & violence fist symbol sure doesn’t leave much to the imagination as to what the union represents…
    It’s too bad, the vast majority of Rangers are good people.

  2. Environmental groups dropping their suit… shows that the legislative winds are behind mining for the time being. It also shows that “environmental” groups aren’t. Having that decision on the record, about financing in the past, when it WAS a violation of MEPA, would have been an important statement. Oh well… can’t have anybody standing up for anything now, can we?

  3. Nothing like a bunch of union workers sing “solidarity forever” to make you want to sing along. Scott Walker imposed the same collective bargaining system as Federal workers have, it doesn’t allow state workers to collective bargain pensions. Good for Wisconsin. There is something wrong when my tax money goes to a state worker then that same money is automatically taken out in union dues, it then goes towards electing a person that’ll vote to give the union a non sustainable pension plan. Boys and girls, the free lunch days are over I hope you enjoyed it. The current healthcare/pension plans for MN state workers will bankrupt the state. If you can do math, you can figure that out. I love the guy saying somewhere there is a “fatcat” making millions…. Why is that so offensive to the union folks. If you’ve built up a business that employs hundreds and does well, you took all the risk, you should make some money. Unless of course you’re GE and in bed with the politicians, then you can make 5 billion in profit here in USA, not pay any tax on it and sit on 2 White House blue ribbon panels with Obama. Very little risk in that. It’s the system and career politicians that are the problem on both sides, Dem and Rep. Don’t fall for the us vs them crap you hard at Memorial Building. It’s us vs the polluted system and polluted politicians.

  4. Wow anti-union sentiment to the max. The symbol of a fist has been for years used to represent the power of the people to organize labor. I agree that state funded pension plans are probably going to be a thing of the past. The right of workers to organize however is fundamental to society. The unions in Wisconsin were willing to make the necessary concessions in regard to wage freezes, pension contributions and health care contributions. Wisconsin still pushed ahead and stripped their right to organize.

    As for “fat cats” making millions, it is common knowledge that the extremely wealthy don’t pay taxes, they just hide their money off shore. As K said look at GE, they don’t pay taxes, google paid an estimated 1.4% last year. Bottom line is that government and the tax system have been set to allow the ultra rich to get even richer. So yeah, maybe it’s not the greatest time in history to rip on unions, especially those in the private sector who work for the uber wealthy.

  5. With all the whining about cross-hairs etc. it is hard to see the virtue of a fist as a political symbol.

  6. The union big wigs have brought this upon themselves, not the union workers!! The normal guy/gal is happy just to still be working! Yeah, you have your hotheads, you always will, but get over it!!
    As someone stated it’s a case of simple mathematics, to see that the way things have been done in the past, is not going to work anymore.
    It’s unions like the AFLCIO and SEIU that stir the pot, and want things to stay the same. In one word….. CORRUPTION!!
    Until things change at the top, it will be the “same old, same old!!”


  7. Sliky…Workers have a “right to organize” but they also have as much a “right not to organize”. And neither is “fundamental to society”, whatever that means.

    Two thirds of U.S. public employees such as teachers, police and civil service workers don’t belong to unions…and 93 percent of private sector workers are non-union.

    Whether or not a state, county or city public employees have a right to unionize is a legal issue, not a fundamental nor God-given right.

    With unions being the largest single source of funding for the Democratic party, it’s no wonder bills are being proposed and laws passed in favor of individual rights vs. collective rights. As someone said..”we won”, the people spoke. If next time “you win”, you can propose bills to your liking. That’s the way it works (if those we elect show up for work).

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  9. “Right not to organize”, I can agree with. “Fundamental to society”, definitely, as I would hate to see what the non union job marketplace in many segments would look like without at least the threat of workers unionizing.

    As for the workers of public sector unions I believe it is their right to unionize as it is in any sector. I do not believe it is governments role to regulate how workers organize themselves.

    That being said I do understand that there is corruption in unions, there always has been. The trade off of not having unions, of not having the workers rights they secured over the many years, is sweatshops like they have in free market capitalist China.

    As for “me winning”, I probably will not vote in the next presidential election. I would never vote for a fool such as Pawlenty, Bachmann, or Palin. I would also never vote for a man like Obama, who sold his soul to the same economic interests that have owned the US government since Reagan, (eg Goldman Sachs etc). I don’t expect to ever win in national politics, that has been sold and bought permanently. As for state elections, they can still have an impact.

  10. I disagree on collective bargaining being a “right”. It’s a business decision like many others that the employer may or may not choose to honor. If US Steel decided today not to deal with union leadership, you have 2 options available to you as a worker, 1 break ranks and show up to work, 2 not show up. It would be like when the air controllers went on strike, they replaced them. Luckily US Steel chooses to work with union leadership. If it gets to the point where US Steel can’t make a profit and goes non union, I bet some of the 20% under or unemployed would show up for a job. Union or not. As my Dad said many times “hungry children don’t care were the check comes from to feed them”.

  11. Ah, but Bob Marley once said “Them belly full but we hungry. A hungry man is an angry man.”

    I don’t think our society should be based on the concept of “what could we get people to do if they were desperate.” That holds rather dubious historical precedent.

    I don’t dispute the notion that U.S. Steel needs to make a profit. If the deals are killing U.S. Steel that’s something to bargain. So, bargain if need be. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible and respectful.

  12. Can’t argue with Bob Marley…….

  13. An employer may choose to let all their employees go when/if they unionize, very true, and a choice I don’t look down upon in business.

    My Dad worked at the Forbes mine for a short time in the 1970’s during which period of time there was a strike. He would have rather kept working and the money coming in. He knew far better than to ever cross a picket line though, and stood with the union vote. I asked him why he didn’t cross the line, he told me there were a couple of reasons. 1. It would have been a betrayal of the majority of his coworkers and the union he entered into when he started working the mines. 2. He didn’t feel like hanging from a big oak tree somewhere back in deep woods (with no sarcasm).

    My point is that union workers don’t really have a choice when the union strikes, they have to if they value their physical safety. I would also hesitate to say that many of the unemployed on the Range would be brave enough to cross that picket line and become, “scabs”. As of late it seems that on the Range the local union heads know not to ask for too much and keep the taconite rolling when it’s good…

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