by Scott McClallen
Snowplow drivers of Teamsters Local 320 in St. Louis County rejected a final contract offer from County officials that led to a strike starting Wednesday.
“We are disappointed in the outcome of today’s vote rejecting this Last Best Final Offer,” County Administrator Kevin Gray said in a statement. “It was a solid proposal that was fair to our employees, is consistent with what other bargaining units have overwhelmingly approved, and respectful of the financial impact on our taxpayers.”
St. Louis County Communications Manager Dana Kazel told The Center Square the county has a contingency plan to use licensed and qualified supervisors from the public works department and other employees to drive the snowplows.
St. Louis County spans 7,000 square miles, Kazel said, and they are responsible for clearing about 3,000 miles of roads.
The county proposed a three-year contract offer for 2020-22 that included base wage increases of 2 percent plus an additional $0.55 cents per hour in 2020, 2.25 percent in 2021, and 2.25 percent in 2022, according to a news release.
The county proposed a nearly 4-percent higher starting wage rate for new snowplow operators, and wage schedule revisions that would accelerate salary ranges for most employees.
Over the three years, most employees would have received wage increases of 10.5 percent to 12.5 percent, along with any scheduled paid step increases, the county said.
The groups agreed on major contract terms including vacation, bereavement benefits and three weeks of paid parental leave, consistent with the county’s agreement with its more than 1,100 county employees.
The county agreed to increase maximum sick leave accrual from 1,250 to 1,350 hours, but rejected the union’s request for a maximum 1,500-hour payout upon retirement due to the $1.5 million cost, the county said.
The county said extending that increase to all its employees would create a potential $18.5 million taxpayer liability for future payout costs.
“By raising this issue, the union is trying to change what they agreed to in a previous contract, and for the county to agree would be inconsistent with other bargaining settlements,” the county said in a news release.
“This was a tough decision for the membership to make,” Teamsters Local 320 Secretary Treasurer and Principal Officer Brian Aldes said in a statement. “However, the Teamsters employed by St. Louis County deserve parity of benefits with the civil service and merit employees.”
Teamsters 320 represents 168 employees.
“These hardworking employees make a daily commitment to drive into blizzard conditions when most folks avoid inclement weather,” Teamsters Local 320 Recording Secretary and chief negotiator Erik Skoog said in a statement. “These employees spend nights, holidays, and weekends clearing roads in dangerous conditions and will not continue to be second class employees.”
The group said they will keep communication lines open with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services if the county extends another offer.
“We know that road conditions in a snow event are a major concern for our citizens, and this is something we take very seriously,” Gray said. “We will continue to put public safety as a first priority. It is disheartening to see Teamster leadership making references on social media as if this is some sort of a game. More significantly, it is disappointing that they would place county employees and union members on the picket line to bear the brunt of financial impact in lost time and wages.”
Teamsters 320 can legally strike until Feb. 3.
– – –
Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.