ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz signed his second bill of the 2023 junior legislative session on Wednesday, extending unemployment benefits for six months to more than 400 laid-off workers at Northshore Mining.
Northshore Mining closed on May 1 and about 450 out of about 580 workers there and at an associated contractor were laid off. Unemployment benefits typically run out after six months in Minnesota, and payments were stopped for many of the workers in November.
As a result, legislative leaders fast-tracked the bill when the session met three weeks ago. The Minnesota House voted 127-7 on Monday to pass it, after the Senate passed it 56-10.
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Walz noted during the signing ceremony that northeastern Minnesota’s iron mining industry has a long history of ups and downs. When times are down, he said, the rest of the state has to be there.
“That’s what legislating is all about, moving things around when they’re needed,” Walz said. “People have waited too long.”
The primary reason for the layoffs is a long-standing copyright dispute between its owner, Cleveland-Cliffs, and a trust that controls the mineral rights to the mine near Babbitt that supplies iron ore for the processing plant of Northshore at Silver Bay. Cleveland-Cliffs said the royalties are uneconomic and that Northshore Mining will remain closed until at least April.
Silver Bay Mayor Wade LeBlanc said the expanded benefits will help keep miners from moving for jobs elsewhere in the meantime.
Lake County Commissioner Rick Goutermont, who recently retired from Northshore Mining, said he and his family would have had to move out without unemployment benefits in previous closures.
The swift pass was a showpiece for the Senate’s top sponsor, Democrat Grant Hauschild, of Hermantown, who represents the area and took office just three weeks earlier. He paid tribute to the workers who resisted and stayed despite winter heating bills and rising food prices.
The house’s primary sponsor, Rep. Dave Lislegard, of Aurora, who represents the Silver Bay area, said the issue was personal to him because he lost his job at the LTV Steel mine in 2001 after it went bankrupt and closed. . Unemployment benefits then helped him and his family hang on, he said.
The bill extends unemployment benefits for another six months, retroactively, at a cost of $10.3 million. Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said the payments would be made very soon.
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