Snowplow drivers working for St. Louis County's Public Works Department wasted no time Wednesday to inform the county of their intent to strike. They filed a strike memo timestamped at 12:01 a.m. — a minute into the new year and one minute after the expiration of their contract.
The letter, obtained from Teamsters Local 320, was also delivered electronically to the state's Bureau of Mediation Services and is a "10-day notice of intent to engage in a strike action against St. Louis County." It cites state statute that allows the action, but gives no strike date.
The county responded later Wednesday saying it was hopeful that an agreement could still be reached.
"St. Louis County remains committed to the bargaining process, as we have been all along," spokesperson Dana Kazel said in a news release. "(W)e remain hopeful that a strike can be averted and a contract agreement will be successfully reached that is fair to our employees and fair to our taxpayers."
In the event of a strike, Kazel said the county would use supervisors and other staff licensed and qualified to plow snow.
The Teamsters overwhelmingly approved a strike proposal 112-1 at a meeting in Virginia in December. The union represents about 180 of the county's snowplow drivers, mechanics, building maintenance crews, parts room specialists, sign technicians, bridge maintenance crews and custodial staff.
The Teamsters did not comment, reserving statements until a planned news release on Thursday.
The two largest bargaining units of St. Louis County employees approved three-year contract offers in December. The two units, both represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, represent more than 1,100 county positions.
"Our intent has been and will continue to be to negotiate in good faith with the Teamsters and all our bargaining units," Kazel said. "The 168 employees represented by the Teamsters are our valued employees and we recognize the tremendous service they provide to the citizens of St. Louis County."
The notice of intent to strike means that the Bureau of Mediation Services will be engaged in additional mediation efforts during this cooling off period, Kazel said.
There has been no return to the bargaining table since Teamsters voted to approve a strike more than two weeks ago, Kazel said.
Because of the holiday, the mandated 10-day cooling-off period on the Teamsters' intent to strike won't begin until Thursday, making Jan. 14 the first possible day of a strike, Kazel explained. During the 10-day cooling-off period, operations will continue as normal.
Union negotiators walked out of mediation in December, saying they weren't making headway. The county said it continues to await a counter offer.
Among the union's grievances are issues related to:
Seniority as it relates to bidding for routes and jobs.
Stagnant wages, leading to recruitment and retention challenges.
Health care premiums, which have risen 31% since 2017.
The process by which workers accrue benefits.
At the last County Board meeting of 2019, Commissioner Keith Musolf took a stand in favor of the Teamsters.
"(L)et’s not forget about the folks operating this equipment and invest in them, too," Musolf said during 2020 budget approval proceedings in December. "Let's not forget about the women and men running our equipment for Public Works."
Editor's note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to include information from a St. Louis County's news release.