Duluth Pack hosted Ivanka Trump, U.S. Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber on Monday morning for the signing of a pledge to expand programs that educate and train American workers over the next five years.
Owners Tom Sega and Mark Oestreich signed The Pledge to America’s Workers during a media event in the Canal Park store.
“It is a great pleasure to be here and in Duluth and to see firsthand an unbelievable example of American excellence in manufacturing,” Ivanka Trump, daughter and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, said. “The president started The Pledge to America's Workers two years ago. He wanted to call upon the private sector to join forces with the government to invest in the skills of all Americans and to provide an on-ramp to opportunity, and to ensure that employers are making the commitment to their most valuable asset, which is the American worker.”
More than 430 companies and organizations countrywide have signed the pledge, which
contributes to over 16 million new education and training opportunities. The pledge commits those who sign to expanding programs that educate, train and reskill American workers, from high school to near retirement, for jobs that need to be filled but lack qualified workers, according to whitehouse.gov.
The pledge was created in 2018 after President Trump signed an executive order establishing the National Council for the American Worker. This was pre-pandemic, when unemployment rates were low and companies were often struggling to find workers to fill open positions.
"This investment is more important than ever, as so many people have been disconnected from the workforce and are experiencing tremendous vulnerability and fear thinking about their path forward," Ivanka Trump said Monday.
She left immediately following the signing, while Bernhardt and Stauber remained to answer media questions pertaining to the pledge and Twin Metals copper-nickel mining project in Northeastern Minnesota.
Duluth Pack is known for making packs for visitors to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Trump administration has returned leases to Twin Metals that the Obama administration rescinded. Critics of the mining project say it would pollute the Boundary Waters.
Duluth Pack has recently been criticized by the public due to the signing of this pledge with the Trump administration and hosting Ivanka Trump. When asked by the News Tribune if they support Twin Metals and how they reconcile signing a pledge with an administration that is advancing this project, Oestreich declined to comment.
Bernhardt told a story of how his teenage son, who when he was in elementary school, received a small Duluth Pack backpack as a souvenir from a camp he attended and how his son still uses it today.
“Everything has to go through a process and there's going to be a lot of rigor associated with it,” Bernhardt said of the Twin Metals project. “So we'll go through the process and the cards will end up being what they are, but we will not sacrifice clean air or clean water for economic development.”
During the media event Monday, protesters could be heard chanting and yelling outside the Duluth Pack store. Around 50 people gathered in support of the Boundary Waters, Black Lives Matter and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Others stood outside the store to protest how the Trump administration has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dressed in plague doctor costumes, Allen Richardson and Scot Bol, both of Duluth, wheeled a coffin across the street with a skeleton holding a sign reading: "Is there a pledge to America's workers for 140,000 plus Americans killed by COVID-19?" Richardson said the old theater props were "lying around for occasions like this."
“I think it is ridiculous that they are here to promote a pledge to American workers when it’s the Trump administration’s malice that has killed up to 140,000 American workers,” said Richardson. “Where is the pledge for the Americans who have died of COVID?”
Another protester, Marlana Benzie-Lourey, of Kerrick, Minnesota, said it was difficult for her to see a company she has supported for over 30 years host someone whose goal isn’t to “protect what we have here.”
“I’ve always been proud of this company. Not anymore,” said Benzie-Lourey, who has bought Duluth Pack products and gifted them to her family as Christmas presents for years. “I don’t know what I will do with the packs I have. Maybe tear the labels off, but that’s not much of a statement. Maybe donate them?”
Sitting on the curb and holding a sign with a loon and the words, “No copper mine,” Judy Derauf, of Duluth, shared similar views.
"I think it is disingenuous for Duluth Pack to be hosting this event,” said Derauf, who returned from a Boundary Waters trip two weeks ago. “As a company that promotes Boundary Waters travel, how can they support this administration that supports things that put the Boundary Waters at risk?"
After Ivanka Trump left, some protesters stayed and banged on the front doors of Duluth Pack shouting obscenities. A man, who asked to remain anonymous, cut a Duluth Pack badge in half and placed it on the window sill of the store.
The store was scheduled to reopen at noon, but Oestreich told the News Tribune they would most likely wait until the protesters left, out of safety concerns.
“Personally, I hope they (Duluth Pack) get some heat for this,” Andrew Slade, Great Lakes program director for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said. His office is adjacent to Duluth Pack.
After leading Duluth, Ivanka Trump and Bernhardt headed to the grand opening of the Missing and Murdered Native American Cold Case Office in Bloomington, Minnesota.
This story was updated at 2:28 p.m. July 27 with additional quotes and information. It was originally posted at 11:46 a.m. July 27.