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Steelworkers rebuke Iron Range mayors backing Trump

A half-dozen Iron Range mayors think Donald Trump is the right choice for blue-collar workers. The workers themselves disagree.

A half-dozen Iron Range mayors think Donald Trump is the right choice for blue-collar workers. The workers themselves disagree. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Six northern Minnesota mayors – those of Chisholm, Ely, Eveleth, Babbitt, Two Harbors, and Virginia – have endorsed President Donald Trump for re-election.

The mayors, five of them representing towns on the Iron Range, called Democratic nominee Joe Biden “out of touch” in an open letter timed to coincide with Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Duluth on Friday.

“Today, we don’t recognize the Democratic Party,” the mayors wrote. “It has been moved so far to the left it can no longer claim to be advocates of the working class,” adding that “radical Democrats” had “abandoned” the hard-working families in towns like theirs.

Eveleth's Robert Vlaisavljevich even got a speaking spot at the Republican National Convention. 

"Since the Iron Range economy is vulnerable to economic trends, and to foreign trade, we have always needed a strong voice in Washington," Vlaisavljevich said. "We looked to Democrats to fill that void for many years, because we actually believed they cared about our welfare. Not anymore. The radical environmental movement has dragged the Democratic Party so far to the left, they can no longer claim to be advocates of the working man."

Trump’s clearly focused on winning votes on the Iron Range, which can be traced back over a year’s worth of speeches name-dropping the region, even claiming to have saved it. Many Democrats (and almost all environmentalists) are opposed to several burgeoning mining projects in the area, pushing a large segment of blue-collar laborers into Trump’s corner.

But not all. On Tuesday, District 11 of the United Steelworkers union put out its own letter, one that raised a skeptical eyebrow at four more years of Trump and endorsed Biden instead.

“Our union believes those mayors are misguided and don’t fully understand the nature of the economics of the industry or the Iron Range,” the letter said. “Just drive down the main streets of Virginia and Eveleth and count the shut-down businesses. It hardly seems like the ‘roaring back to life’ that these mayors describe.”

District director Emil Ramirez says there’s still a lot of mounting hardship on the Range, and some of it can be traced back directly to Trump.

“We don’t think these six mayors understand what people are going through,” he says.

For one thing, he and the union letter point to the pandemic, which, under the Trump administration, has killed over 1,800 Minnesotans and sickened some 74,000. Trump “refused to acknowledge the threat” the illness posed, the letter says – and the Iron Range paid for it.

“As a result of the pandemic, almost half of the workers at the Iron Range’s mines were laid off,” the letter says. “USS Keetac is still idle and its 260 employees on layoff. Yet somehow, the president and the Republican-controlled Senate don’t care enough about Keetac workers or the other 16.3 million Americans who are unemployed to extend enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of the year.”

In addition, it called the Trump administration’s tariffs on imported steel “too little too late,” saying nearly 8,000 steel industry workers had lost their jobs to shutdowns and cutbacks since 2017. 

One part of the letter reads:

"President Trump has allied himself and his administration with the wealthy and powerful and against workers and the most vulnerable in our society. He’s championed tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, increasing the federal deficit to record levels, but he’s failed to deliver the infrastructure program to rebuild our nation’s crumbling bridges and roads. He has worked to undermine collective bargaining, workplace safety, environmental safeguards, the Affordable Care Act, government ethics, congressional oversight and voting rights."

Ramirez was traveling in the Iron Range a couple of weeks ago, and he says things are still looking pretty grim – small mom-and-pop shops closing their doors in Virginia, partially because people are out of work and don’t have disposable income, while families are going without new vehicles or college savings so they can pay bills and rent.

“We want someone in the White House who understands labor,” he says.