Editor’s note: Incumbent Democrat Robert Ecklund is running against Republican Roger Skraba for District 3A State Representative. Both candidates were offered an opportunity to write a column for this issue of MINE.
Three distinct industries represent the lifeblood of our region — taconite, timber, and tourism. While I spent much of my time in the workforce participating in the second of those three – working in a papermill – I recognize the connection they all have to our natural resources and the unique character that makes our region such an incredible place to live, work, raise a family, retire, and visit. I also served as a proud member of the United Steelworkers, and value the economic security all workers deserve so they and their families can prosper in a strong middle class.
Currently, as chair of the House Labor, Workforce, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, I’m honored to work alongside our brothers and sisters in labor to strengthen opportunities for working families all across the state. This November, I’m seeking reelection to another term serving constituents of District 3A in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region and hope to once again earn their support.
While we’ve certainly bounced back from some of the toughest times of the pandemic and the related global economic uncertainty, the mining industry – and the people who work within it – are facing new challenges. Challenges aren’t new to mining, and over many decades, folks in northern Minnesota have been called upon to dig deep and persevere. With our trademark grit and resiliency, the Iron Range has been able to rebound. At the State Capitol, I’m committed to helping deliver solutions to help folks navigate roadblocks, some of which are temporary and some of which are persistent.
This summer, Cleveland Cliffs announced the continued idling of Northshore Mining. It was devastating to again see workers in our region lose their jobs due to no fault of their own, and to know their families are likely experiencing deep anxiety about their future. Worse, most workers will exhaust their Unemployment Insurance benefits before the Legislature returns to Saint Paul in January.
Immediately after Cliffs’ announcement, I went to work drafting a bill to offer a UI extension for these workers that lawmakers could consider in a special session. I’m disappointed that Senate Republicans showed little or no appetite to come back to work, not only to help these workers navigate their current adversity but to take care of multiple other important pieces of legislation to help Minnesotans tackle rising costs, especially with a sizable budget surplus. It’s deeply regrettable that election-year politics has gotten in the way of economic security for workers. My bill remains ready to go and I’m hopeful we can deliver this critical UI extension soon.
As of this writing, a contract between US Steel and the USW workers remains elusive. Our region’s success depends upon the success of our mine operators, but that’s not enough. Workers deserve to share in the success they help create through their dedicated work day in and day out, and this includes a fair contract. USW workers have reached an agreement with Cliffs, so it’s unfortunate that US Steel workers remain in limbo. I sincerely hope labor and management can stay at the bargaining table in good faith to get this important piece of unfinished business taken care of for workers and their families.
Keeping our mining industry thriving well into the future will require taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies. The capability of hot briquetted iron to produce direct reduction ore brings great potential for the future of American-made steel. The technology also produces far less carbon than traditional methods which will help protect our environment and meet our nation’s goals in tackling climate change.
I commend the producers for advancing this innovation, including the new plant at Keetac. Hopefully, it can be implemented at other Minnesota facilities in future years, and, in the near term, existing facilities can increase production to help Northshore Mining get back to work producing DR-grade pellets..
I recognize the struggles and challenges mining (and miners) have faced, but with continued innovation and investment, there are numerous reasons for optimism. I strongly support our mining industry, our heritage of iron ore production, and good-paying jobs with economic security in our mines and related industries.
If my Northland constituents give me the honor of once again serving them at the State Capitol, they will have my full commitment to deliver for miners, their families, the communities in which they live and emerging opportunities within the mining industry. I look forward to a continued partnership to strengthen a strong heritage in our region.