St. Louis County offered its snowplow drivers a "Last Best Final Offer" after 11.5 hours of contract negotiations Friday, but the chief negotiator representing the drivers said he's urging members to reject it in a ratification vote Saturday afternoon.
"(St. Louis County) did not come to the table prepared today," Teamsters 320 chief negotiator Erik Skoog told the News Tribune Friday night. "They stalled."
The plow drivers will hold a ratification vote at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Asked if a rejection of the contract would solidify a strike, Skoog said, "This county has never been closer to a strike with the Teamsters."
County spokesperson Dana Kazel said in an email late Friday that "The County believes the Last Best Final Offer is fair and reasonable for both its employees and taxpayers."
"Out of respect for the process, we cannot disclose the terms of the proposal at this time," Kazel said. "After this proposal is presented to the unit members as part of the ratification vote, more information will become available regarding the proposal."
Skoog said the county's newest offer still did not offer "benefit equality," but he did not go into details.
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.
Friday’s negotiation session started at 10 a.m. at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth and was the final mediation session between the county and snowplow drivers in its Public Works Department. If a deal is not reached, the union can begin its strike on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The mediation session was arranged by the state Bureau of Mediation Services on the heels of a 10-day cooling-off period required under state statute after the union filed its intent to strike on Jan. 1.
The last mediation session in December lasted 19 hours.
The union has maintained that it would prefer not to strike.
If the parties do not come to a settlement, Teamster members have the legal right to begin a strike anytime between Jan. 14 and Feb. 3.
In the event of a strike, the county has said it could use supervisors and other staff licensed and qualified to plow snow.
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.
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.