Plain Talk: GTAC: Wisconsin's new 'corporate citizen'  07.12.13

Read this article online from the Cap Times By: Dave Zweifel  - Editor emeritus of The Capital Times.

This outfit that was handed the keys by Gov. Scott Walker and his Legislature to build a massive open pit iron mine in northwest Wisconsin's environmentally rich Penokee Hills must have missed the Chamber of Commerce's messages about the need to be a good corporate citizen.

If Gogebic Taconite truly is a "citizen" as the U.S. Supreme Court insists corporations really are, it would be considered a genuine bully that pushes and shoves until it gets its way.

The corporation, a subsidiary of the Cline Group that is owned by coal industry billionaire Chris Cline, has been in the news all week for its hiring of masked and combat-ready armed guards as it begins test drilling at the mine site.

It claims that it needs these kind of guards — supplied by an Arizona "no-compromise security force" called "Bulletproof" — to provide workplace safety for its employees because environmental protesters are threatening them.

Pictures of the guards, their faces covered with masks and holding military assault weapons, alarmed many people in the area, especially those whose businesses rely on tourists, many of whom like to go hiking in the woods. State Sen. Bob Jauch, who represents the area, insisted that surely there were less confrontational ways for the company to protect itself from demonstrators who oppose the iron mine.

Turns out that Gogebic Taconite didn't check to see if the "Bulletproof" folks were licensed in Wisconsin. They're not, so it's back to square one. And, should law enforcement officials find the company went to work knowing it didn't have a license, it could be suspended for a year.

GTAC, as the company is known, reminds me of the early mining company days when using force against anyone who dared get in the way, including the unions that represented their workers, was commonplace.  The companies were notorious for their brutality, and apparently GTAC's philosophy hasn't evolved all that much.

That became obvious two years ago when this Republican administration was doing everything possible to OK mining for this single company, including relaxing environmental and permitting standards. When Gov. Scott Walker's giveaway to the mining interests died by one vote, GTAC officials were apoplectic. They vowed to leave Wisconsin forever and take their business elsewhere unless they got all the regulatory leeway they were asking. Just a little example of corporate blackmail.

After Senate Republicans got a two-member majority, the Legislature quickly went ahead and bowed to GTAC's wishes this year, opening the doors to this corporate bully to have its way with the northern Wisconsin landscape.

Plus, earlier this year, GTAC President Bill Williams got into a heated argument with Ashland County Executive Jeff Beirl after the County Board passed a county mining ordinance that Williams didn't like. Williams snatched Bad River tribal member David Joe Bates' cell phone from his hand, which Bates was using to record the exchange. He quickly gave it back, but for a time Ashland officials investigated whether a crime had been committed. They decided that it had not.

This is the kind of corporate citizen that the Wisconsin Legislature and Walker are coddling, bending over backward to meet their demands, because "it's good for business." It may be good for businesses like GTAC, but it isn't good for the people's business.

Don't be surprised if the next thing Walker and this Legislature does is pass a new law exempting outfits like "Bulletproof" from needing a license. The lobbying and the money is probably already flowing.