The final mediation session between St. Louis County and snow plow drivers in its Public Works Department has been set for Friday.
Teamsters Local 320 chief negotiator Erik Skoog told the News Tribune he and Teamsters members are hopeful the two parties will arrive to a settlement.
"We genuinely want to avoid a strike at all costs," Skoog said. "Obviously a strike is a last effort in trying to achieve one's goals. When a strike happens it impacts people's livelihoods, it disrupts their families, it disrupts their income flow, and it disrupts the community as well."
The state Bureau of Mediation Services arranged the meeting to take place at 10 a.m. Friday at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth. The meeting comes on the heels of a 10-day cooling-off period required under state statute.
If the parties do not come to a settlement, Teamster members have the legal right to strike beginning Jan. 14, until Feb. 3.
In a statement to the News Tribune, county spokesperson Dana Kazel said the county is looking forward to returning to the bargaining table.
"(We're) committed to working through this mediation session no matter how long it takes to reach a deal that serves both our employees and taxpayers," Kazel said.
The Teamsters working for the county voted 112-1 to authorize a strike at a meeting in Virginia in December after walking away from contract negotiations with the county.
Teamsters have cited "healthcare inequality" as the cause for the vote to strike.
They say workers within the county's Public Works Department are provided less coverage and pay more than management and non-union employees. Union members are requesting the right to find plans outside of the county's self-funded health-care option with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"We feel like we have a number of options that would cure this issue, but their costs just keep going up and up," Skoog said of the county's health-care option.
In terms of the settlement Teamsters are hoping the two parties will arrive at, Skoog said it's hard to anticipate what it will look like since conversations with the employers haven't occurred since almost a month ago.
The union represents about 180 of the county's plow drivers, mechanics, building maintenance crews, parts specialists, sign technicians, bridge maintenance crews and custodial staff.
Brady Slater contributed to this report.