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Walz signs bill extending unemployment benefits to laid-off miners

Northshore Mining's out-of-work miners exhausted their 26 weeks of unemployment in November.

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Gov. Tim Walz signs a bill extending unemployment benefits for workers laid off since last spring, when Cleveland-Cliffs idled its Northshore Mining iron ore mine in Babbitt and pellet plant in Silver Bay. Standing directly behind him, from left: Silver Bay Mayor Wade LeBlanc, Rep. Dave Lislegard DFL-Aurora, and Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — More than 400 laid-off miners will receive unemployment insurance again.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday signed a bill extending the benefits for the employees laid off since last spring when Cleveland-Cliffs idled its Northshore Mining iron ore mine in Babbitt and pellet plant in Silver Bay.

Over 400 of 580 Northshore employees have been out of work since, exhausting their first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in November.

Silver Bay Mayor Wade LeBlanc, who joined the governor and Iron Range lawmakers at the bill signing at the Capitol on Wednesday, said the benefits of restoring unemployment will ripple beyond the workers.

"It's not only the miners. It's the contractors. It's the vendors. It's everybody," he said. "It's a region thing and not just a Silver Bay or Babbitt thing. It's the whole region: Duluth, up on the Range, everybody."

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The bill extends benefits for another 26 weeks and is applied retroactively to when the first round ran out. Unemployment benefits are typically about half of someone’s usual salary.

The extended benefits cost approximately $10.3 million and will be paid for by the state’s $1.7 billion unemployment insurance trust fund, which businesses pay into with taxes.

After pressure from Republican lawmakers, Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, the Senate bill’s chief sponsor, added a requirement that Cliffs pay more in unemployment taxes.

Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, was the chief sponsor of the House version of the bill. He said the issue is personal for him as he has family members who have been laid off, and that restoring benefits will provide "much-needed support and help in a devastating time."

Lawmakers hope the benefits carry the laid-off employees through the remainder of Northshore’s closure.

April is the earliest Northshore could restart, Cliffs has said.

But if closure continues beyond that, lawmakers said they intend to introduce legislation to extend the benefits again.

The mining and steelmaking company idled the facilities amid a royalties dispute and as the use of scrap metal in electric arc furnaces reduced the need for its pellets.

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FILE: Northshore Mining
Cleveland-Cliffs’ Northshore Mining in Silver Bay.
Clint Austin / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

Five laid-off employees of Dyno Nobel, a contractor that provides blasting services in Northshore’s open pit mine, will also be eligible for the extended benefits. But unlike Cliffs, Dyno Nobel’s tax rate will not change.

The bill received bipartisan support as it quickly passed through the Minnesota House and Senate . It's the second bill the governor has signed into law this legislative session, which started just three weeks ago.

In a statement after the bill passed the House on Monday, Rep. Roger Skraba, R-Ely, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he was encouraged that it passed within the first month of the legislative session.

“This bill is going to help hundreds of miners in our area that have faced significant financial hardships through no fault of their own. … It is my hope that this can bridge the gap until both the Peter Mitchell Mine in Babbitt and the processing facility in Silver Bay can get up and running,” Skraba said.

Related Topics: MININGTIM WALZCLEVELAND-CLIFFSIRON RANGEGOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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