St. Louis County makes counteroffer to union to try to avert strikeSt. Louis County managers said Monday they have made a new counteroffer to two county employee unions in hopes of avoiding a strike set for Friday.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
St. Louis County managers said Monday they have made a new counteroffer to two county employee unions in hopes of avoiding a strike set for Friday.
County officials say they sent negotiators from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 66 a proposal essentially accepting what the union had proposed regarding accumulated sick leave.
Current county employees can bank up to 1,900 hours of sick leave, to cash out for a health savings account upon retirement. The county wanted to limit that to 1,150 hours for new employees to limit taxpayer liability in future years.
Union members balked at that proposal, saying a two-tier system would pit union members against each other and break their union. Instead, they countered with another offer — reducing both new and existing employees to 1,500 hours of banked sick leave. (The exception is employees who already have more than 1,500 hours but less than 1,900 would be allowed to keep what they have now.)
The county at first said no to that offer. But on Monday, it changed course with a strike date just days away.
“Reducing the sick leave benefit to 1,500 hours is a temporary solution to a long-term situation,” said County Administrator Kevin Gray. “We will accept it for now if, in fact, this is what our employees want. But it’s something we will need to revisit in future negotiations.”
An AFSCME official did not immediately return a call to comment on the development.
About 1,005 members of Local 66 are authorized to strike at 12:01 a.m. Friday if a new contact isn’t in place or if negotiations haven’t resumed. They represent nearly two-thirds of the county’s 1,640 employees.
The county’s most recent offer is for a three-year contract with wage increases totaling 4.5 percent over three years — 1 percent retroactive for 2012, 1.5 percent retroactive to the start of 2013 and 2 percent for 2014. Health insurance and pension benefits remain unchanged. Additionally, each employee would receive a $480 lump-sum cash compensation upon settlement.
The two unions represent employees in nearly all of the county’s departments, although the largest number are in social service areas. County officials say they have developed a contingency plan should a strike occur. This plan prioritizes services focusing on providing critical services. Some offices and departments would operate with reduced hours and/or locations.
The county said it will announce any changes in public services our hours of operation if a strike occurs.