United Steelworkers is putting Rep. Pete Stauber to the test, asking him to meet them on the union's side of an upcoming piece of workers' rights legislation.
A group of United Steelworkers members from across Minnesota’s Iron Range met Wednesday in Eveleth with officials from Stauber’s office, urging the Congressman to support a workers’ rights bill currently under consideration in the U.S. House.
They asked him to support legislation which would make it easier for unions to organize, and penalize businesses that obstruct unionizing drives. What made the visit unique was that the Steelworkers went on record with the meeting in a news release afterward.
Stauber is a first-term Republican Congressman from Hermantown and a retired union Duluth Police Department officer. His office declined to forecast Stauber's vote or share a position on the particular legislation.
"Congressman Stauber organized, led, and negotiated on behalf of his police union in Duluth," spokesperson Kelsey Mix told the News Tribune. "He has always been and always will be a strong labor supporter."
She added that Stauber and his office make it a priority to meet with all groups from his district "to ensure he has an informed perspective on all issues, including this particular legislation."
When asked if the visit was intended to challenge Stauber's merits with the union, Steelworkers spokesman R.J. Hufnagel, from Pittsburgh, told the News Tribune: "This visit was not intended to be confrontational, but rather educational. Nothing really more than a group of constituents asking Rep. Stauber to vote for legislation that was important to them and their community."
Stauber has earned attention, despite his freshman status, for getting work done in a bipartisan manner and having friendly relations outside traditional Republican interests, such as with unions.
Stauber launched his reelection campaign at the carpenters' hall in Hermantown earlier this month. At it, he said he would protect Social Security and Medicare from cuts or legislative plunder. Protecting those benefits is a core union issue, but some in the Republican party have talked about bringing reform to those large balance sheets.
In the news release Wednesday, the Steelworkers seemed to challenge the depths of Stauber's support by urging him to vote yes to a workers' rights bill wending its way through the House of Representatives.
"Polls show that more than half of non-unionized workers would join unions tomorrow if they had the chance,” said USW Local 2660 President Dan Pierce in the news release.
Pierce has worked for almost 20 years at U.S. Steel’s Keetac operation in Keewatin.
"(T)oo often companies bully and intimidate and otherwise block the efforts of well-meaning workers who simply want a voice in their workplaces," he said.
Stauber is hosting a demonstration in Virginia in support of copper-nickel mining at 2 p.m. Friday at the carpenters' hall, 724 Fourth St. N.
Copper-nickel mining is widely supported by miners on the Iron Range, and Stauber has earned additional credibility among union workers for stressing policies that reinforce economic drivers, and reduce barriers to business and industry.
The proposed union rights legislation, Protecting the Right to Organize Act, was introduced last year by Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat from the state of Virginia. It would restore a number of worker protections contained in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which Steelworkers say has been slowly eroded over the years by corporations and anti-union lawmakers.
“Every worker deserves a voice in their workplace, and every worker deserves fair treatment, good wages, quality health care and a secure retirement,” said USW District 11 Director Emil Ramirez, who represents workers in nine states, including Minnesota.
Ramirez also echoed something Stauber has said in the past about making policy for Main Street America.
“The PRO Act will level a playing field that for too long has been tilted in favor of big corporations," Ramirez said. "This bill will give power back to the families on Main Street instead of Wall Street.”
The House Education and Labor Committee passed the PRO Act (H.R. 2474) in September 2019, and the full House is expected to debate and vote on the bill in the coming weeks, the Steelworkers said.