ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota senators promise help for Hoyt Lakes

SUPERIOR -- June Bluhm isn't giving up on Partridge River. With 11 years on the job, the Hoyt Lakes mother of three has been with the company through some tough times before and plans to stick it out.

SUPERIOR -- June Bluhm isn't giving up on Partridge River. With 11 years on the job, the Hoyt Lakes mother of three has been with the company through some tough times before and plans to stick it out.
Bluhm and other factory workers displaced by a fire last week at Partridge River's Hoyt Lakes plant got some encouragement Friday, but they know there will be no quick fix.
Senators Mark Dayton and Paul Wellstone promised to help get the Hoyt Lakes plant rebuilt.
Bluhm is one of about 60 Iron Range workers now commuting to the Partridge River plant in Superior. Some of them ride the bus, while others car pool or drive themselves.
The bus trip takes about 2 1/2 hours, which means workers must be up long before the sun to make it to Superior for the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift. Then it's after 8 p.m. when they finally get home.
Bluhm said she's worried about her husband and their three kids, ages 6, 12 and 14. "I know it's keeping him busy," she said.
She had just completed two marathon days, and like some of her co-workers, looked a little dazed.
"I've been through pay cuts and wage freezes. I can't quit on them now," Bluhm said. "He deserves a pat on the back.
"This is hard on us, but at least he's keeping us working."
She was referring to company president Andrew Richey, who arranged to have the Wisconsin plant absorb the Hoyt Lakes workers.
Bluhm was also thankful to the Superior workers. She said they have gone out of their way to accommodate the newcomers.
"We love our job," said Gary Lamp, unit chair for one of the plant's two unions. But he raised the concern about unemployment benefits for workers unable to make the long trip.
"We have a big challenge ahead of us," said Richey. "We have to get a plan together for Hoyt Lakes. We have to get all the plans in place, plus we have to get this place running."
Richey said about 60 to 70 workers from Hoyt Lakes are now working in Superior, and he wished they could be more. About 100 jobs were affected by the fire.
Wellstone acknowledged the effort being made by the displaced employees to continue on the job in Superior.
"There is just no doubt about the commitment to open up a plant in Hoyt Lakes," he said. "Hopefully, I'll see the company and employees together on this.
"I'm going to help it out any way I can. The worries I've heard is that people are exhausted."
"Your commitment to Minnesota and Hoyt Lakes is phenomenal," Dayton said. "It's the incredible work ethic that we have in Minnesota and on the Iron Range.
"Whatever is possible, we will certainly go to work on it."
Dayton discussed several avenues of assistance for rebuilding the plant, which could eventually involve a package of state, federal and local aid.
He thinks the project could move forward in time for the upcoming construction season.
Richey said it will be at least a couple of weeks or months before any decisions are made. He said a new facility would have to address the company's needs for the next five to 10 years.
"We have to be prudent and put up a plant that will carry us into the future," he said, and promised a high level of communication with the workers.
Richey said the Superior plant took about a year from the time it was conceived until it started operating. The construction phase was eight months.
The two senators talked with individual workers about specific concerns, and Dayton found something he may be able to fix right away.
Due to a permit problem, the bus workers take from the Range can only go as far as Duluth. They then have to unload in the dark and board a local bus to cross the bridge to Superior.
The senator thinks his office can fix it so they can at least ride straight through.

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.