Mining is the lifeblood of northeastern Minnesota, and there is a tradition of 8th District congressmen standing in strong support of the workers who mine the ore on the Iron Range. But Rep. Chip Cravaack has broken with that tradition, choosing instead to stand with the mining companies in Pittsburgh at a time when the United Steelworkers Union (USW) is badly in need of a champion.
The landscape of contract negotiations has changed considerably over the years. In the past, the USW was negotiating with domestic companies who were motivated to seek an agreement because of limited resources. But the steel companies are now multi national corporations with extensive foreign resources. These wealthy multi nationals can withstand a work stoppage at local mines much better than Iron Range workers or businesses that rely on mining for their livelihoods, so they are not as quick to negotiate as in the past and are bold enough to demand significant concessions from workers during a time of unprecedented profits.
The USW was able to reach a tentative agreement with United States Steel (KeeTac, MinnTac) on Sunday, but there is still no agreement with Cliffs Natural Resources (HibTac, UTac) and ArcelorMittal (Minorca). In the past, other contracts were patterned after the one agreed to by USS, which was then the largest mining company. But this is no longer the case, and each company hammers out its own agreement with the union. Contract negotiations between the USW and Cliffs are set to resume again in October, and both sides have agreed to keep the mines operational in the interim. Negotiations with ArcelorMittal have been particularly contentious, and workers at Minorca staged a ‘practice’ picket on Wednesday to show they will indeed strike if necessary. ArcelorMittal is now the largest of the mining companies and possesses substantial resources independent of Iron Range taconite.
This changing face of the mining industry is why the steelworkers need a strong show of public support, particularly from their representative in Congress. So where is Chip Cravaack during the steelworkers time of great need?
Bartending at a bar owned by a Cravaack supporter in Aurora. Having jolly visits at a gift shop near Cloquet and a recreational sports equipment store in Eveleth, both also owned by Cravaack supporters.
To add insult to injury, the store in Eveleth is just one mile from the USW District 11 staff office and 1.7 miles from Local 6860, which represents steelworkers at United Taconite who are currently working without a contract with owner Cliffs Natural Resources. Tensions have been high as Cliffs earlier threatened to hire replacement workers in the event of a strike and had actually brought in trailers to feed the scabs. If ever a union needed to hear words of support, it’s this one.
Yet their own Congressman Chip Cravaack chose not to drive less than 2 miles to stand in solidarity with the steelworkers, with his constituents on the Iron Range. Cravaack has issued no statement of support for these Iron Range workers because according to a staffer “The Congressman doesn’t want to get involved.”
It should now be clear to everyone that when Chip Cravaack says “I support mining” what he really means is “I support the multi national mining companies.”
As the November election approaches, voters across the Iron Range and northeastern Minnesota need ask themselves only one question: Do we want a congressman who stands with the steelworkers on the Iron Range, or do we want a congressman who stands with the big mining companies in Pittsburgh?
That choice will determine the fate of the region’s workers for generations to come.