John Arbogast never planned for a mining career.
Mining sort of found him.
“It was funny,” Arbogast, a United Steelworkers (USW) staff representative in Eveleth said. “My son was three years old and my daughter was a newborn. You never think about mining. I had thought about a more professional career, but those kids came along.”
A 1984 Virginia High School graduate, Arbogast was pursuing a criminal justice education at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.
However, a seven-year hitch in the U.S. Army detoured his education.
Following his service, Arbogast returned to school at St. Cloud State University to again study criminal justice.
But raising a family became a priority.
Nearly 30 years later, mining has been his life.
“I had worked at Potlatch (near Cook),” Arbogast said. “But it kind of sucked. I was like a vacation fill-in. You’d work your regular hours and then all of a sudden you were working all weekend. Minntac payed better and was more stable.”
Since hired in 1995 at U.S. Steel’s Minntac Mine in Mountain, Arbogast has become a well-known fixture in Iron Range mining.
Arbogast, nicknamed “Arbo,” started as a laborer in the crusher. He advanced to become an attendant, a millwright, and then an iron worker in the plant’s central shops.
Since then, Arbogast’s leadership in the USW has spanned nearly his entire mining career.
“It started when I was in the crusher in operations,” Arbogast said. “Most of the guys involved in the union were craft employees. There’s not a lot of grievance men who are in operations because of the shifts they work. It’s a lot easier to do it when you work day shifts.”
Early on, the opportunity to serve in the union fell into his lap – pretty much from his own making.
“I wasn’t happy with some of the things going on in the crusher and I went to a millwright and asked, ‘Can you help with this and can you help with that’?” Arbogast said. “That’s when he said, ‘Why don’t you become a grievance man’?”
The rest, Arbo says, is history.
Arbogast went on to serve three three-year terms as a grievance chair at Minntac, two three-year terms as USW Local 1938 vice-president, and one three-year term as Local 1938 president.
After 26 years at Minntac, Arbogast moved into the staff representative job in Eveleth.
“I was offered the job and under our contract you can go out for two years,” Arbogast said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”
As staff representative, Arbogast works every day with steelworker presidents, union officials, members, and company representatives at Minntac Mine, Keetac in Keewatin, Hibbing Taconite Co. near Hibbing, United Taconite in Eveleth and Forbes, and Minorca Mine in Virginia.
“It’s been great,” Arbogast said. “At the beginning it was hard after being a grievance man at Minntac and having learned everything there from the people before me. You know how to do that job, then all of a sudden you have Minntac, Keetac, Hibbing Taconite, Minorca, and United, so you have to learn all this stuff about the contracts. It takes a while to get your feet under you. But it’s so much fun working with all the presidents and the grievance men and women and giving them help.”
USW District 11 Director Emil Ramirez and Assistant Director Cathy Drummond have been huge assets in his transition, Arbogast said.
“I’m lucky to have Emil as a director and Cathy as an assistant director,” Arbogast said. “Emil is great and so is Cathy.”
Arbogast has now moved into even more responsibility.
He was recently named co-chair of the Iron Ore Alliance.
The alliance is a joint initiative of USW and U.S. Steel.
Under the alliance, the union and company work together on key issues such as environment, taxes, iron ore pellet production, and lobbying.
Part of the alliance goal is to educate Minnesotan’s about the importance of the massive industry.
“I think it’s a good thing for U.S. Steel and the USW to work together for common goals,” Arbogast said. ”It’s pretty neat that both sides have gotten together to work on common issues rather than fighting. It’s rare and very unique. There’s nothing maybe like that in the country.”
Together, U.S. Steel’s Minnesota Ore Operations at Minntac and Keetac employ about 1,845 and can produce about 22 million tons of iron ore pellets annually.
Chris Masciantonio, U.S. Steel director, government affairs and public policy, co-chairs the alliance with Arbogast.
Masciantonio says he’s looking forward to working with Arbogast to advance the interests of Minnesota Ore Operations and support the hard working men and women at Minntac and Keetac.
“Arbo is a strong leader and a passionate advocate for the members of United Steelworkers, the iron mining industry, and the Iron Range communities,” Masciantonio said. “His 26 years experience with the steelworkers, including his time as President of Local 1938 at the Minntac Mine, provides immense value for our joint efforts as we work collaboratively on the important issues that impact iron mining in Minnesota.”
Arbogast says he’s always been proud to represent steelworkers. And Masciantonio, he says, is a great guy to work with on the Iron Ore Alliance.
As it has been for nearly three decades, mining continues to be good to Arbogast and his family.
Arbogast’s wife, Mary, is a millwright at Minntac.
“I’ve loved all the work I’ve done,” Arbogast said. “Mining jobs are good jobs. It’s hard work, it’s dangerous work, but it pays well. It’s middle class income and you’re able to take care of your family, send your kids to college and have good health benefits. We’re probably one of the few in the country where we don’t pay health benefits and that’s because of the union.”