Seeking a future in a struggling industry, Iron Range steelworkers hold rally

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Minnesota's Iron Range steelworkers are answering a national rallying cry to fight for their future, as the clock ticks on a major union contract that affects tens of thousands of people.

Hundreds of demonstrators – workers, their family and supporters – rallied in Virginia, Minnesota, on Thursday, hoisting signs that read "Fair Contracts Now," the Forum News Service reports.

A number of Minnesota's elected officials – including U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan – showed up as well, with Lt. Governor Tina Smith telling the workers to "stand tall" and "fight hard" for a new deal with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal, Forum says.

According to Northland's News Center, the contract between the two companies and the United Steelworkers (USW) union – which represents 30,000 employees – will end on September 1.

The demonstration and the looming deadline come at a difficult time for the industry; with steel prices in a slump, Minnesota has seen a rash of plant idlings and layoffs in recent months.

Union members, a recent announcement from USW indicates, fear a new contract could lead to even more instability if negotiators can't secure reasonable terms.

"Management at the companies are attempting to use a temporary downturn in the domestic steel market as an excuse to permanently gut workers’ contract language and benefits," USW said.

The announcement says some 17,000 steelworkers would be holding demonstrations across the country, with the hope of winning a fair contract and securing "good jobs for the next generation of steelworkers."

Negotiations between the union and the companies is underway, with bargaining having begun in June, Northland's News Center notes.

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