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Union calls for mining company to help employees forced to quarantine

EYE ON MINING -- As the Iron Range sees growing infection rates of COVID-19, the local mines have had to adjust protocol to ensure pellets are being made, while employees are kept safe.

But there's a problem union leadership is dealing with when it comes to employees who are sent home due to close contact, or exposure to the virus at work.

Steve Bonach is union president for USW Local 1938 representing Minntac, a U.S. Steel mine in Mountain Iron, MN. Bonach said he doesn't really have any issues with the company's handling of COVID protocols, adding they are following CDC guidelines.

If an employees tests positive they get sickness and accident benefits, but if an employee comes in close contact with someone with the virus at work, they have to be sent home to quarantine without pay.

Bonach said as cases rise more and more union members have come to him with concerns.

In a statement to CBS 3 Bonach wrote:

"The issues I’m having with the company is when we have a positive case at work and during contact tracing if they identify one or more members for close contact they are sent home to quarantine. The issue is if they worked a couple of days already they do not qualify for unemployment benefits because they already made over the allotted amount which shorts their guaranteed 40 hours of pay for the week. This has happened to many members already but the company does nothing except tell us to grieve it! All while our members are trying to do the right thing to prevent the spread."

Bonach said things are only getting more difficult for employees as kids learn from home and daycares close due to the pandemic. He said the union hopes to continue this conversation with the company.

In a statement to CBS 3, a company spokesperson for U.S. Steel wrote:

"The health and safety of our employees is our top priority at U. S. Steel where employees across the company have been working as essential personnel since the beginning of the pandemic.  U. S. Steel has implemented safety measures across our facilities requiring social distancing and face coverings, providing disinfecting and sanitizing supplies, including increasing cleaning and disinfection of high-traffic areas, limiting outside visitors and gatherings, installing plexiglass partitions and supplying additional PPE."

Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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