St. Louis County snowplow drivers are poised to go on strike just in time for snow across Minnesota’s geographically largest county.
Teamsters Local 320, which represents more than 160 public works employees, voted 117-8 on Saturday to reject the county’s final contract offer. The local’s negotiating team rejected the offer after an all-day mediated session Friday.
On Sunday night Brian Aldes, the local’s secretary-treasurer, told members to remove personal items from work but did not set a date for work stoppage. Earlier Aldes had said the first day employees could strike is Tuesday, though the local is continuing to discuss the start date.
Snow is expected Tuesday night and will sporadically accumulate throughout the week, according to the National Weather Service.
The county’s Public Works Department plows more than 3,000 miles of roads. County spokeswoman Dana Kazel said supervisors and other licensed employees will drive plows during any strike.
“We are disappointed in the outcome of today’s vote rejecting this Last Best Final Offer,” County Administrator Kevin Gray said in a statement. “It was a solid proposal that was fair to our employees, is consistent with what other bargaining units have overwhelmingly approved and respectful of the financial impact on our taxpayers.”
The local voted in December to authorize a strike, and on New Year’s Day union officials gave the state notice of intent to strike, prompting a 10-day cooling-off period with mandatory mediation before any work stoppage could legally begin. That period ends Monday.
Talks between the county and the local broke down last month over wages, seniority rights and health care. The union says public works employees pay more for less coverage than management and nonunion employees.
Aldes said the local’s negotiating committee was prepared to continue talks, and was “quite shocked” to receive a final offer.
“The union’s membership is dedicated to public service, and making sure that the public has safe roads and bridges to travel on,” he said. “We were prepared to stay there all night long, and they shut us down.”