The United Steelworkers are making a push at Northshore Mining in Northeastern Minnesota. “Workers started calling us, and we kept getting more and more calls, and we started thinking there’s enough interest to make an organizing drive,” said John Arbogast, District 11 staff representative for USW Local 1938.
The drive is being conducted at the company’s two facilities: the mine in Babbitt and the facility in Silver Bay that produces taconite. There are about 580 workers who are eligible.
The card-check effort — in which Northshore’s parent company, Cleveland Cliffs, said it would remain neutral — ends October 9.
Arbogast said organizing during a pandemic has posed some challenges, making it difficult to meet with workers in person when social distancing and shutdowns were especially strict. Over the past few months, however, it’s been easier.
“It’s exciting. We hope it goes well, and we’ll find out in the next five weeks.”
Arbogast said the union generally has a good relationship with Cleveland Cliffs at other facilities, and CEO Lourenco Goncalves has said he likes the partnership with the Steelworkers. “He likes that we work with them and he works with us; it makes it a lot easier when there’s no interference with management.”
Goncalves has indeed had complimentary words for unions, saying, “Our union workforce is at the core of what we do at Cleveland-Cliffs” regarding a recent agreement with the UAW at a plant in Michigan.
The Steelworkers had a recent Cliffs victory at the hot-briquette plant in Toledo, Ohio, as well, which accepts taconite pellets from Silver Bay. “That went seamlessly,” Arbogast said. “It makes it a lost easier when the company doesn’t try and sabotage our efforts.”
Arbogast said the effort at Northshore is meant to help give workers there a voice. “When you don’t have a contract, you don’t have anything in writing that protects the things you have. They have a lot of great things and we’re not looking to change the good things they have, just make it better around the things they don’t have that the Range does.”
Retiree healthcare, safety, training and apprenticeship programs are some of the selling points the union is using to make its case.
“Look how many years we’ve been on the Range and no one’s ever thought about getting rid of us,” Arbogast said. “It’s a good time to bargain.”
After its purchase of ArcelorMittal last fall, Cleveland-Cliffs established itself as a highly integrated steel producer and a powerhouse on the Range. It owns United Taconite, Northshore, Mincora and Hibbing Taconite. U.S. Steel owns Minntac and Keetac.