Union Representing St. Louis County Snow Plow Drivers Authorizes Potential Strike
VIRGINIA, Minn. — The Teamsters Local 320 union, which represents St. Louis County Public Works employees, voted in favor of authorizing a strike if contract negotiations fail with the county by the end of the year.
The vote passed 112 to 1 Sunday morning.
A potential strike would involve 180 St. Louis county employees, which includes snow plow operators, mechanics, building maintenance workers, bridge workers, sign technicians, and custodial workers.
If a new contract isn’t reached by December 31st, the county could lose snow plow drivers during a time when snow threatens to blanket the roads during the winter months.
“It would greatly impact travel travel on county roads, and it would be costly to St. Louis County,” Erik Skoog, a representative with the Teamsters Local 320 union, said.
Skoog said that contract negotiations started in early fall, with the two parties meeting five times.
This past Wednesday and Thursday, a mediation between the county and the union lasted 19 hours.
Although the union has voted to authorize a strike, they have not yet provided the state of Minnesota with its intent to strike, which it must do since it represents public employees.
Once the union files its intent to strike, there is a mandatory ten-day cooling off period. The state will hold a mediation between the two parties. If no agreement is reached, then the union can set a date to begin the strike.
Skoog said the union wants to negotiate higher wages for county public works employees that is comparable to other public sector employees.
Another issue revolves around health care costs, which Skoog said has risen 31% since 2017.
Union members with St. Louis County public works want to be able to have a wider variety of health insurance plans, and would like to be released from the county plan, so long as the county still covers the cost of health insurance premiums.
Other issues include benefit inequality between public works employees and other county employees, such as non-unionized workers and management employees.
Skoog said there is also a seniority issue when it comes to the county assigning certain routes to snow plow drivers.
Over the phone, Skoog said to FOX21 that the number of quality applicants applying to jobs with the county has decreased.
In a statement to FOX21, Dana Kazel, the communications manager with the county, wrote:
“We have received notification that members of Teamsters Local 320 have rejected a contract proposal as part of labor negotiations for contracts effective January 2020.
Teamsters Local 320 represents approximately 200 employees including equipment operators, heavy equipment mechanics, bridge workers, sign technicians, storekeepers and other positions in the Public Works Department.
We respect the negotiations process and will continue to negotiate in good faith. We value these employees and the important work they do, and are optimistic that a positive outcome will be reached.”