ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday signed his second bill of the 2023 term, extending unemployment benefits by six months for more than 400 laid-off workers at Northshore Mining.
Northshore Mining closed on May 1 and approximately 450 workers out of approximately 580 workers there and at an affiliated contractor were laid off. Unemployment benefits typically expire after six months in Minnesota, and payments for many of the workers stopped in November.
Consequently, when the session was convened three weeks ago, legislative leaders put the bill on the fast track. Minnesota’s House of Representatives voted 127-7 Monday to approve after the Senate voted 56-10.
During the signing ceremony, Walz noted that the iron mining industry in northeast Minnesota has a long history of ups and downs. When the times are over, he said, the rest of the state needs to be there.
“That means making laws, moving things when they’re needed,” said Walz. “People have waited too long.”
The main reason for the layoffs is a long-standing royalty dispute between its owner, Cleveland-Cliffs, and a trust that controls the mineral rights to the mine pit near Babbitt, which supplies iron ore to Northshore’s Silver Bay processing plant. Cleveland-Cliffs said royalties are uneconomically high and Northshore Mining will remain closed until at least April.
Silver Bay Mayor Wade LeBlanc said the expanded benefits would help prevent miners from moving to work elsewhere in the meantime.
Lake County Commissioner Rick Goutermont, who recently retired from Northshore Mining, said he and his family have had to move away without unemployment benefits during previous shutdowns.
The quick passage was a feather in the cap of the main Senate sponsor, Hermantown Democrat Grant Hauschild, who represents the region and took office just three weeks earlier. He paid tribute to the workers who persevered and stayed despite heating costs in winter and rising food prices.
Major House 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. The unemployment benefits then helped him and his family to persevere, he said.
The bill retroactively extends unemployment benefits for another six months at a cost of $10.3 million. Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said the payments would end very soon.