St. Louis County Public Works supervisors, along with other licensed and qualified staff from other divisions and departments, are behind the wheel of snow plows and other equipment as employees from the Highway Maintenance Division - members of Teamsters Local 320 - took to the picket line early this morning.
"We hoped this action could have been avoided," said county Administrator Kevin Gray. "Nevertheless, snow is falling and public safety remains our top priority, so we have implemented our contingency plans to plow the roads."
The county also has activated a strike information page on its website to provide up-to-date information on the strike situation, the county's contingency plans, and maps to show how roads are prioritized for plowing based on average traffic volume. That information can be found at stlouiscountymn.gov.
St. Louis County Public Works is responsible for maintaining 3,000 miles of roads, spanning from Duluth to the Canadian border.
The county's last best final offer for a contract covering 2020-22 included base wage increases and other incentives totaling 10.5 percent to 12.5 percent over three years. Additionally, the county agreed to the union’s request to allow the bargaining unit to elect to leave the county’s self-insured health plan in the future with an employer contribution equal to that provided to employees covered by its own self-insured health plan.
The sticking point seems to be the sick leave accrual cap. Currently, employees hired since 2013 can earn up to 1,150 hours of sick leave, the equivalent of more than six months paid sick leave, which can be converted to a health saving account upon retired. The county rejected the union's request of a maximum 1,500 hour payout upon retirement due to the high price tag. The estimated of this demand for Teamster members alone is $1.5 million, and to extend that increase to all employees, which would be a likely expectation, would create a potential $18.5 million taxpayer liability for future payout costs.
"It is disheartening that the situation came to this," said Gray. "The county was aggressive in making a solid offer that is responsive to many Teamster demands, so it’s heartbreaking to see our highway maintenance workers on the picket line, knowing the impact on them and their families; and it’s frustrating because of the impact on our citizens and our employees in other bargaining units."