Times are tough for workers in Minnesota’s mining industry. Low prices for metals have led to layoffs and plant closures that have affected more than 1,500 mine workers. Now, the United Steelworkers are locked in contentious contract negotiations. According to news reports, US Steel wants to end retiree health benefits and significantly increase health care contributions.
During the last session, Minnesota legislators gave millions to the mining industry, but it was apparently not enough.
First, they came for the schools, and the Legislature obliged, cutting the school trust royalties to be paid by US Steel by $4 million.
Then they came for the water, and the Legislature obliged, suspending enforcement of the sulfate standard and slashing at environmental enforcement.
Then they came for the electrical ratepayers, and the Legislature obliged, transferring millions of dollars of electricity costs from mines to residential and small business customers.
Now they’ve come for mine workers, trying to eliminate retiree health benefits and increase health care premiums. Now the same legislators that worked so hard to deliver for the mining industry are confused. Why didn’t giving them millions of dollars protect workers?
Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, told rallying mineworkers yesterday they pushed for the aid to keep workers on the job. “For us to do that for them and to meet them halfway, and for them to turn around and then go after your benefits, your health care, your retirement, it’s insulting,” Melin said. “So next time they come begging to us at the Legislature, our door might not be open for them.”
Keep this episode in mind the next time you hear a politician or lobbyist talk about how rolling back pollution protections is needed to preserve jobs and help workers. After giving the industry everything it wanted, they came after the workers anyway.