Deal to extend benefits for miners is done

Word NEWS in Old Typewriter Typebar Letters Isolated on WhiteA longstanding worry of many unemployed miners on the Iron Range and their families is being resolved today.

Today, the House Ways and Means committee passed a bill that would offer up to 26 weeks of additional unemployment benefits for Iron Range miners affected by a downturn in the steel industry. It would also include tax credits for businesses for their contributions to the state unemployment fund.

The Associated Press was reporting the news.

DFLers had opposed a deal that included business tax cuts, but today some DFL language was inserted into a new bill and all Democrats supported it. That would suggest that some kind of deal has been struck by leadership of the Republican-led House and DFL-led Senate to finally resolve the issue.

Moments ago, my friend Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) told me that there is a deal. He was not yet aware of all the particulars, since it was negotiated by Sen. Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt, though the Ways and Means bill was probably the resolved language. Either that or some other details remain to be worked out between the chambers.

Members were meeting with their caucuses as I wrote this. More information will likely be revealed by the end of the work day.

While the Range received the good news today that Northshore Mining was reopening in May, two taconite mines remain idled. Those mines include United Taconite in Eveleth and Keewatin Taconite. Though there is sincere hope that United could open again this year, KeeTac is widely expected to stay down for a longer time. Those workers are the ones whose benefits have expired and are most affected by this news of a possible deal.

Other Range mining operations like three of Magnetation’s plants and Mesabi Nugget are also idled. Some of those workers might be eligible for an unemployment extension now, or else federal trade assistance funding for retraining.


  1. Obama Sin Laden says

    so in a state with 2% unemployment, people need extended benefits? Gotta give the Democrats credit for buying votes right from under the Republicans noses. You can all go fishin’ for 6 months now and bitch about how liberals from the TC are ruining your life.

  2. Gray Camp says

    There is seriously 2% unemployment in the state? What is the IRRRB doing right now? There has got to be businesses in MN that are willing to relocate or expand to the iron range in these conditions – especially when the IRRRB is willing to provide monetary incentives.
    In a convoluted way, you bring up a decent point. Part of the problem right now on the range is that when miners get laid off, they know that it is only a matter of time before the mine starts up again, so they don’t really look for an alternative job, instead waiting for the mine to re-open and their good paying job to hire them back. I’m guessing at least many Keetac, Magnetation, and Nugget employees would be willing to accept less money for some job security – even if Utac and Northshore employees are not.

  3. The Minnesota state unemployment rate for January was 3.7%. It is 6.9% in St. Louis County, 9.1% in Itasca County, 4.6% in Duluth, 9.6% in Hibbing, 9.7% in Virginia, and 11.7% in Grand Rapids. It is in the 3% to 4% range in the Twin Cities area, depending on exactly where you look.

    The ongoing crash in the extraction economy is also hurting North Dakota, with its unemployment rate climbing and the state no longer available as a safety valve to provide good paying jobs for Minnesotans willing to move, permanently or temporarily.

    I agree that the high wages in the mining industry do provide a disincentive to change fields during downturns or to move, since finding other work that pays anything near as well, even with additional training, is difficult. That will remain a problem on the Range as long as mining is any form is a significant industry. Of course since all the mines will eventually run out of usable ore, that problem will end eventually. The periodic shut downs will prolong the time until that end for both iron and non-ferrous mining, but will continue to cause severe problems both from a humanitarian and an economic view, since the mining downturns also suck money out of the entire regional economy. The unemployment aid will soften that blow not only for the miners and their families, but for all the businesses that are supported by them.

    One major impediment to getting businesses to move to the Range is the availability of a labor force able to do 21st century jobs, many of which require math and computer skills and some level of specific technical training or experience. Infrastructure is another issue; just because Aaron has argued for the value of better (or in some cases any) broadband as an economic stimulus so often that you could wallpaper your living room with his columns about it does not make it any less true.

    The fact that the mines will open again someday also is an issue, since no business wants to see its best and most reliable employees just waiting around for their old jobs to open up.

  4. “One impediment to getting businesses to move to the Range might be the availability of a labor force to do the 21st century jobs”…but I doubt it. However, THE impediment is the anti-business, pro-union attitude, plain and simple.

  5. hardrockminer says

    Those of us laid off from United Taconite were told we would be back to work within 6 months. We were encouraged to sign up for TAA/TRA benefits before the 6 months expired. Most of us have. Very few programs are acceptable to the TAA, making start dates unreasonable. And the options very limited. Most programs don’t start until the fall. If we are still told we will be going back to work, why on earth would we ‘pack up and move? Who would pull children out of school, try to sell a home with no buyers, for less money than we receive in unemployment? If we go work full time for a poverty level hourly wage, we lose our unemployment. The state/feds let you work part time though. The entire system is screwy. No one should lose a job due to illegal dumping! If trade isn’t FAIR, it should not be allowed. Most of the cheater countries have wages that amount to slave labor, with little to no environmental protections. Even without the ‘livable’ wages our union provides, we cannot compete on an uneven playing field. Most of our well paid jobs are pretty dull. The vast majority of us work rotating shifts. The shifts change weekly or more often. We are always tired. Many miss holidays with their family for years. There is little to no room for advancement. Many do the exact same thing for 30+ years. Most of us work in dirty, noisy environments with little to no human contact for the entire 8 or 12 hour shift. Yes, we have it made!
    Mining companies have a very high premium for unemployment insurance due to the cyclical nature of the industry. There is a 1.6 BILLION dollar balance in the U.E. fund. We deserve the benefits we are getting. I do not believe in ‘unearned’ entitlements. The unemployment dollars are not coming from taxpayers. For all of the mining haters commenting on social media etc., why not worry about all of the unproductive folks living on the dole for generations who don’t have a clue what trying to make a living is? Reduce the size and intrusion of government in your lives.
    If it is not grown, it is mined!

    • One set of facts is definitely true. As long as there is mining on the Range, both iron and non-ferrous, we need to be prepared to deal with shutdowns because they will occur; history is absolutely clear about that. The mines need to pay unemployment taxes that are high enough to cover their workers during the shutdowns, and the state must pay those benefits to the people who need them, as well as making sure there is enough money in the funds to do that. That is just part of the cost of mining, as much as paying wages and the electric bill.

      It is not only unfair to miners and their families to call for them to move during down cycles, but it is bad business for the mines, who certainly do not wish to lose trained skilled workers and have to start from scratch every cycle.

      When resources are exhausted and the mines close for good, we will have to deal with that as it comes. As long as the mines open and close in response to international economic fluctuations we must deal with that, including appropriate extension of unemployment benefits.

  6. Gray Camp says

    I don’t know enough about how unemployment benefits are meant to work. Do the mines really pay in more than other types of businesses? Is the intent of mines paying more to give miners longer than usual unemployment or is it to account for the fact that they are likely to have layoffs more often? If the intent is for longer unemployment, then it is criminal that it isn’t written into the unemployment rules and it is crappy that legislature goes 10 months between sessions without a special session.
    I have a problem with CNR telling employees they will be back in 6 months, and not holding up to it. That is not how the unemployment system is supposed to work. If you are laying off people, there needs to be the risk to your company that they find something better in the meantime and you lose that employee – you can’t lead them on to try and trick them into not finding a different job. Didn’t CNR also just have an earnings announcement where they made a profit for the period?
    hardrockminer – out of curiosity – if a different job opportunity came up that was 3/4 the wage and non-union, but had more job security and more normal hours, would you take it?

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