The U.S. Department of Labor has agreed to extend unemployment benefits to laid-off Mesabi Nugget workers on Minnesota’s hard-hit Iron Range, state officials announced Friday.
The petition extends job training benefits to roughly 200 laid-off workers in Hoyt Lakes and Chisholm by about 130 weeks.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Rep. Rick Nolan and Gov. Mark Dayton worked with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to push the petition through the Labor Department.
The move expedites approval of federal trade adjustment assistance petitions for Iron Range miners and iron workers who were laid off in recent months.
Steel Dynamics idled its Mesabi Nugget taconite plant in May and laid off 200 workers. Those who have not found replacement jobs risked having to stop their retraining classes that would lead to other employment.
Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the new benefit extension will keep laid-off workers in training programs that will lead to more stable employment.
“It is important that workers have access to the resources they need to offset income loss and support their families during this transition,” she said.
The Mesabi Nugget workers are not the only ones at risk.
Since May, 412 iron workers were laid off at U.S. Steel’s Keetac plant. Another 400 were laid off at the Minntac plant, but those workers are either back or expected to be called back to work soon. Magnetation laid off about 20 iron tailings workers after idling one plant in Keewatin. It filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter. And last month, Cliffs Natural Resources said it will idle its United Taconite plant this month in Forbes and its mine in Eveleth and lay off 420 workers.
Dayton said he supported extending benefits for all workers caught in the cross hairs of an industry downturn that has been fueled by a surge in cheaply priced steel imports and the decline in global taconite prices. Taconite is the key ingredient in steel.
“Extended unemployment benefits will help these workers and their families get through this very difficult time,” he said in a statement. “I thank everyone who worked to secure this important assistance, … delivering help to Minnesotans who need it.”
Klobuchar came to Virginia, Minn., Thursday to rally in support of iron and steelworkers. “Whether our Iron Range workers are pursuing training programs or a new job, they will now have the security they deserve,” she said.
Franken, who met with Minnesota iron workers earlier this week, also praised the benefit extension but acknowledged that a lot remains at stake.
Steel companies have seen revenue squeezed by global pricing declines and ramped up competition mostly from China, but also from Korea, India and Saudi Arabia. Several U.S. steelmakers have since closed plants, cut worker hours and sold off businesses to make ends meet.
Several labor contracts expire Sept. 1 at iron and steel plants throughout the country, including the Iron Range.