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St. Louis County snowplow drivers likely to authorize strike

Local Teamsters 320 president Erik Skoog said members are likely to reject the county's final offer at their meeting on Dec. 19.

An orange-yellow snow plow sits outside in the snow.
One of St. Louis County's newest snowplows sits outside the public works facility in Pike Lake. It includes three plow blades and other snow-fighting equipment that can be detached, making the vehicles versatile for year-round use.
Contributed / St. Louis County
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DULUTH — St. Louis County's snowplow drivers and public works employees represented by Teamsters Local 320 are moving closer to voting to authorize a strike after receiving a final offer from St. Louis County.

Representatives from the county and the teamsters met for a day of mediation with the State Bureau of Mediation Services on Monday. At the end of the day, the county presented a final offer for settlement to the Teamsters, which president Erik Skoog said falls short of the union's expectations.

"They cited that there's a pattern, that two other unions have accepted the deal so that we should accept it as well," Skoog said. "But we have some safety items and economic pieces where it definitely falls short of what we need."

In January 2020, a six-day strike was held during a multi-day snowstorm. Supervisors with the county crossed picket lines to drive plows in lieu of the striking workers. Both sides were able to come back to the bargaining table and come to an agreement following the strike.

Sides thawed after a phone call from plow drivers, who conceded on their big ask in exchange for health care improvements of equal value.

According to representatives from the county, the "settlement offer is consistent with the agreements that have been reached with and ratified by other county bargaining units to date representing more than half of the total county workforce."

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It includes a three-year contract from 2023 to 2025 with a 3% general wage increase in each year of the contract, with employees eligible for step increases ranging up to 3.88% each year of the contract and a one-time $400 cash payment to employees.

Skoog said the union is vying for 4% increases each year and a $500 lump-sum payment for each year of the contract.

"But that's just the economic side," Skoog said. "The safety piece is what's really important to our folks."

The settlement offer includes a new annual $150 monetary stipend for cold-weather gear and agreements on other safety-related items. Skoog said the union asked for a $500 cold weather gear allowance.

"Right now the county doesn't provide us with reflective yellow safety gear for the winter," Skoog said. "We get vests, baseball caps, and gloves but they purchase their own winter gear. And because of the work that they do, folks can literally chew up a safety jacket in a season. And the value compared to someone's life being taken away or crippled or disabled more than makes up the difference."

A spokesperson from the county said that the settlement offered is "fair and equitable to both our employees in the Public Works Highway Maintenance Division and to the residents and businesses we serve."

Skoog said it is highly likely that members will vote to reject the deal at their meeting on Dec. 19. The vote to reject the deal will automatically authorize a strike. Skoog said that the union may not file a petition to strike right away but will be "strategic and deliberate" about when to file for the strike. After the petition is filed, there will be an automatic 10-day cooling off period for both parties before mediators bring them back to the table.

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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