Dayton seeks special session for steelworkers

Published 10:22 am Friday, November 13, 2015

ST. PAUL (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton is urging legislative leaders to agree to a special session to shore up an unemployment insurance fund for laid-off steelworkers, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The Democratic governor sent the letter to top leaders in the House and Senate on Wednesday, asking to consider a special session before the end of the year or early in 2016 “before nearly 600 Minnesotans will have exhausted their unemployment benefits.” Lawmakers provided extra funds to aid laid-off miners this year, amid a tide of mine closures that swept across the Iron Range, but Dayton said that money may run dry for many by February.

Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson confirmed the governor sent the letter. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Senate Democrats will discuss Dayton’s proposal next week. House Speaker Kurt Daudt did not immediately return a request for comment.

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The global slump in the steel industry is hitting hard on the Iron Range due to the resulting drop in demand for ore, costing hundreds of jobs. United Taconite in Eveleth and Keewatin Taconite have faced shutdowns this year, as have Mesabi Nugget near Hoyt Lakes and Mining Resources in Chisholm. Minntac in Mountain Iron recently resumed operations after being idled this spring.

In his letter, Dayton said that more than 1,400 workers had applied for unemployment benefits through October. While some have stopped applying for benefits, more than half are still tapping into a fund that could be exhausted by February or March. And 74 workers laid off by U.S. Steel will run out later this month, he said.

The Legislature isn’t set to return until March. This week’s plea isn’t Dayton’s first call for a special session. His proposal to provide aid at Mille Lacs Lake after the state canceled walleye fishing season early petered out this summer, and he briefly considered an overtime session to address a long-standing dispute with the federal government over IDs that could have caused issues for Minnesota residents boarding planes.

Nor would it be the first special session if lawmakers agree to return to St. Paul early. Lawmakers approved the initial sum for steelworkers during a June special session to finish the state’s budget.