A group of United Steelworkers (USW) union members from across the Iron Range met Wednesdays with officials from U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s office to urge the congressman to support a workers’ rights bill currently under consideration in the U.S. House.

The proposed legislation, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R. 2474), would remove unnecessary and overly burdensome barriers to union organizing and establish stronger penalties for companies that illegally block unionizing drives.

“Polls show that more than half of non-unionized workers would join unions tomorrow if they had the chance,” said USW Local 2660 President Dan Pierce, who has worked for nearly 20 years at U.S. Steel’s Keewatin Taconite operation.

“Every worker deserves a voice in their workplace, and every worker deserves fair treatment, good wages, quality health care and a secure retirement,” said USW District 11 Director Emil Ramirez, who represents workers in nine states, including Minnesota. “The PRO Act will level a playing field that for too long has been tilted in favor of big corporations. This bill will give power back to the families on Main Street instead of Wall Street.”

The House Education and Labor Committee passed the PRO Act (H.R. 2474) in September 2019, and the full House is expected to debate and vote on the bill in the coming weeks. Read next week’s Labor World for more on this story.

Days after Beltrami County became the first county in Minnesota to refuse consent for refugee settlement, St. Louis County commissioners tabled the same resolution at its meeting earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the Duluth Central Labor Body unanimously approved its own resolution supporting refugee settlement in the county at its monthly meeting.
The move is largely symbolic, as St. Louis County is not a common place for refugees to settle. However, members of the body felt it was important to take a stand, especially in light of the county commissioners’ actions.
The CLB resolution reads, in part: “the Duluth Central Labor Body supports the United States Constitution and all laws welcoming refugees to Minnesota without regard to age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin; and we renew our commitment to foster a community in which all people have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.”
“We were deeply disappointed that the St. Louis County Board voted to delay the vote and we encourage our union siblings to share their disappointment with their County Commissioner,” said Beth McCuskey, Duluth Central Labor Body president. “For me personally, it makes no sense that the County Board didn’t pass this at the January 7th meeting. It’s hard to understand why this would be controversial in any way.”
Trump issued an executive order last fall requiring states and counties to actively opt-in to the resettlement programs; the default is that counties or states are not included unless they express consent.
Gov. Walz and the state of Minnesota has opted in to refugee resettlement. Beltrami County’s move to actively reject refugees was symbolic because of the opt-in requirement.

The St. Louis County Board’s action tabled the vote until May. The deadline to opt in is June 1.

Keith Nelson, Keith Musolf, Paul McDonald and Mike Jugovich approved the delay, while Beth Olson, Frank Jewell and Patrick Boyle opposed it. Nelson made the motion to table the resolution and Musolf seconded it.

More than 800 refugees were settled in Minnesota in 2018. None were settled in St. Louis County.

The Northern Wisconsin Building Trades Council has been working with city officials in Superior to strengthen the current Responsible Bidders Ordinance stronger, and the city council has adopted changes that will help.
With Project Labor Agreements outlawed as part of sweeping anti-worker legislation under the Walker Administration in 2017, RBOs are the next best thing to provide protection for taxpayers on public works projects, says Kyle Bukovich, president of the NWBTC. He believes this is the only RBO in the state.
“The biggest change is that when a general contractor or construction management firm is administrating the contract, they have to make sure all the contractors abide by the ordinance,” Bukovich said.
Under the previous ordinance, a contractor that hadn’t disclosed past issues with accusations around employee violations was able to do work on the new fire hall. “At that time we were asked by Mayor Jim Paine to look at the ordinance and see what needed to be changed,” Bukovich said.
If a contractor misclassifies workers or isn’t up-to-date on federal or state laws such as workers compensation and unemployment insurance, that’s on the general contractor under the new ordinance. “This ensures that the contractors doing public works projects are following all the state and federal laws,” Bukovich said.
In addition, there are changes in language around apprenticeship requirements to help ensure that contractors doing business with the city on public works projects are helping provide a pathway to a career, Bukovich said.
Other language in the ordinance is meant to ensure that contractors on the project have done at least one other public works project that included a scope of work similar to the project they’re bidding on, and that was at least 50 percent of the new project’s size or value. “This helps ensure that they have access to all the necessary equipment, organizational capacity and technical competence to perform the work properly,” Bukovich said.

Bukovich said it’s possible Wisconsin Gov. Evers could enact a statewide Responsible Bidders rule, which would be a step forward after the lean Walker years. “People aren’t quite ready for a prevailing wage yet,” Bukovich said.

The Citizens Climate Lobby made a presentation at the January Duluth Central Labor Body to provide an update on its work to find a bipartisan market-based climate solution.
The organization now has a bill in the U.S. House, HR 763, and the CCL is now informing the public about it. The bill consists of three main proposals:
• A rising price on every ton of CO2 equivalent, starting at $15 per ton the first year, and an additional $10 per ton every year afterward. This price would be paid by the companies that pump, mine or import materials into the country.
• These fees are then refunded back to every U.S. citizen equally. While fossil fuel prices will rise, this refund will rise more quickly.
• A Border Carbon Adjustment would be assessed at the border and put in a fund. A U.S. steel company that wants to export steel to a country without carbon pricing equal to this country would receive a refund on the fee paid on fossil fuels used to produce the steel.
According to the CCL, carbon pricing could spark new construction, energy upgrades and the use of industrial waste heat for home heating, and many of these projects, if they were municipal projects, would require union labor, the CCL said. “Those of you in this hall, yes, you’ll still have a job. The investment in changing energy generation would be a couple billion dollars.”
The House bill has 75 cosponsors and there is a Senate bill ready for sponsorship.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a non-profit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.
For more information on the organization and its work, visit www.citizensclimatelobby.org