Union: Contract talks with St. Louis County have broken off; sick leave is sticking pointNegotiations between St. Louis County and the unions that represent nearly two-thirds of the county’s employees have broken off and a strike could begin as early as Aug. 29, union officials reported Saturday.
By: Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune
Negotiations between St. Louis County and the unions that represent nearly two-thirds of the county’s employees have broken off and a strike could begin as early as Aug. 29, union officials reported Saturday.
After a 14-hour marathon mediation session, the county rejected the union’s proposals and walked away from the table late Friday night, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said.
St. Louis County communications manager Dana Kazel declined to comment on the status of the negotiations Saturday, saying that the discussion was confidential.
However, AFSCME said that the union will explain its final proposal and what it says the county must do to avoid a strike at a news conference Monday afternoon. If no agreement is reached, a strike could begin as soon as midnight on Aug. 29.
In a new revelation, the union said Saturday that the sticking point is sick leave, not wages. County officials want to reduce the amount of sick leave that can be accrued by employees hired after Dec. 31, 2014, AFSCME said, but the union does not want a two-tiered system.
“Our team is willing to work through necessary concessions, but we will not let the employer bust our union with a sick-leave plan that pits new hires against current employees,” Steve Kneifel, who leads AFSCME’s negotiating team, said in a statement.
The county rejected the union’s proposal to bridge the gap by immediately reducing the maximum accrual for sick leave by 20 percent for all members of the union, AFSCME reported. The proposal would not have eliminated sick leave already accrued by employees that are above the proposed new cap.
AFSCME Local 66 represents 1,005 of the county’s 1,620 employees. Union members in the “civil service basic” and “merit basic” bargaining units have been working without a contract since Dec. 31, 2011, although the expired contract has been honored.
Any strike would first have to be certified by the state Bureau of Mediation Services, which could happen as early as Monday. The bureau would set a 30-day window in which the strike must start, union officials said.
AFSCME members voted on July 31 to authorize union leaders to call a strike if necessary.
Both sides had said last week that they were optimistic about Friday’s negotiations, which were held at the Bureau of Mediation Services in St. Paul.
It’s not clear at this point how county services might be affected by a strike, but Jim Gottschald, the county’s human resources director, told county commissioners last week that the county is prepared for a potential work stoppage.