Mine labor talks stop; Range labor gathering is Sunday

It appears that the United Steelworkers union and the major owners of mines in northern Minnesota and Michigan are taking a break from negotiations. The Duluth News Tribune is among those reporting the news. This means that tonight’s deadline will pass without a contract deal. The unions at the Cliffs mines had already authorized strikes, but have agreed to continue operations for the time being. The same is true of U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal mines, where strike votes have not yet been taken, but are on the table.

At issue are company demands for a two-tiered pay scale (reducing pay for new workers) the loss of pensions for new workers and large increases in the cost of retiree health care. The union opposes these changes. Iron Range mines are operating near peak capacity after two very strong, profitable years for the industry.

Perhaps a couple days off will help negotiations. But Sunday’s Labor Day picnic noon-5 p.m. at Olcott Park in Virginia, MN ought to be a feisty place if you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit.


  1. “A couple of days off?”…you’re dreaming Aaron. The world has moved on and you’re living in the past. Unions out-lived their usefulness decades ago. In fact, the days of each individual proving their worthiness have been with us for 30+ years. Union members are good people but haven’t opened their eyes to todays reality.

  2. So as mine profits continue to rise, workers should accept less pay and fewer benefits? I understand why business might like this. But how does this benefit the communities of the Iron Range? Extracting the ore is a one-time proposition. You can’t outsource it. You can’t replace it. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Workers, their families and communities should share in whatever prosperity is culled from this situation, if only for a simple market-based reason: they can, and business will go on just fine if they do. From a macro point-of-view, however, a larger argument for strengthening the earning power of the middle class emerges. It is, after all, the critical component of all of America’s past economic booms.

    Now, if you can tell me how workers can prosper in negotiations without collective bargaining I’d love to hear it. That’d be a ground-breaking economic theory. Publishable even. You could be an academic, with a posh government salary. And to be clear, because you struggle with this sometimes, I am being sarcastic about that last part.

  3. “Can (you) tell me how workers can prosper without collective bargaining”?

    With close to 90% of the American workforce not unionized, preforming tasks from the most basic to highly-skilled, it’s logical to assume systems have been developed to hire, train, evaluate and reward (pay) workers appropriately and competitively.

    Didn’t you have your annual performance review?

  4. Payroll is down. The economy is stagnant, recovering in some places but not others. Costs are rising. Productivity is way up because people are working more for less. Point is “the current model” hardly seems like a perfect solution. There are pros and cons, and a lot of factors are independent of unionization.

    If Iron Range miners take this loss — lower pay, no pensions, higher health care costs — what’s in it for them? What’s in it for the places where they spend their money?

    But I can see you don’t have much respect for me or my opinions, Bob, so have a good one.

  5. Well, I have respect for your opinions, Aaron, but then perhaps we read a little more about what is really happening to the workforce under the guise of the benevolent corporations.

  6. I DO have respect for your opinion Aaron..or I wouldn’t keep reading your blog.

    But to the issue…unless we pay for anything other than performance, we’re doomed. That’s a fact. The laws of supply & demand inherently won’t allow for anything less. And unions by their nature encourage/protect substandard performance.

  7. Well, perhaps I misinterpreted the comment. If so I am sorry.

    I agree that union protection of incompetence or poor performance is not acceptable in the modern economy. I’m in a union and the dedicated union members — the active ones — are very frustrated when a member does not perform their job duties well. It does happen, but it’s rare and usually done by people who are neither active in their jobs or the union. But the administration has a role in policing that, too. Indeed, talking to miners (including some who are no fan of the union) many frustrations stem from management decisions as much or more than union cronyism.

    I don’t know that “poor performance” is the dominant reason that unions are waning in membership. I think it’s wholescale economic change that has, by and large, favored the companies. Now, I’m not here to vilify the companies. Their prerogative is clear and indeed necessary to the economy. But what I’m saying is that the workers have a prerogative as well. And sometimes, when it comes to wholescale issues like pay and benefits and the kind of job security that helps people become comfortable and active participants in the local economy – collective bargaining is a useful, necessary tool.

    That’s why I ask why these workers have an incentive to give up their union. They might be cajoled into it, or lured to an open shop with generous pay and voluminous overtime like they were at Mesabi Nugget. That sort of money and “freedom” is appealing to many. But in the long run I see the weakening of unions on the Range (and we agree, they are weakening) as having a negative effect on the social and economic fabric of the region.

    West Virginia is not a model to emulate. Nor is Kentucky. I understand those states have some lovely places to visit and maybe even some great people to meet, but economically we don’t want people doing dangerous extractive work for lower wages. That is my opinion, anyway.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.