A bill to extend unemployment benefits for more than 400 laid off mineworkers on the Iron Range is headed to DFL Governor Tim Walz for his expected signature, after it passed the Minnesota House Monday by a vote of 127-7.
The bill extends benefits for an additional 26 weeks for workers who were laid off last May at Northshore Mining, which operates an open pit taconite mine in Babbitt and a processing plant in Silver Bay along the North Shore of Lake Superior.
Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, who sponsored the bill, said for him the measure is personal.
He was 27 years old with two children when he was laid off from LTV Steel on the Iron Range in 2000. Lislegard told fellow House members that unemployment benefits at the time helped families survive.
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“I tell people, the history and traditions of the Iron Range run as deep as the minerals under our feet,” Lislegard said. “And I'm proud of our lineage and our heritage.”
But “It’s a tough world up on the Iron Range,” he added. “It's cyclical."
Cleveland Cliffs, which owns Northshore Mining, along with three other taconite operations in northeastern Minnesota, idled the mine and pellet plant last May amid an ongoing royalty dispute with Mesabi Trust, which owns the mineral rights where the iron ore is mined.
About 410 out of about 580 mineworkers were laid off. Many lost benefits beginning last November.
The $10 million includes a provision pushed by Republicans to require Cliffs to pay more in unemployment taxes in the future.
The bill had wide bipartisan support, including from Rep. Roger Skraba, R-Ely, who spoke on behalf of laid-off miners.
“They don't like being idled, they like working, they want to work,” Skraba said. “They have every opportunity to work. They just need to be called back. While they wait, they need our support.”
Cleveland Cliffs has said that the earliest the facility would reopen is April of this year.