Updated: January 15, 2020 10:31 PM
Wednesday morning was day one of the Teamsters Local 320 strike against St. Louis County.
"We are working together on this, sticking together on this," said Todd Lopac, a plow operator from the Hibbing location.
"This is the first time in the county's history that any bargaining unit has struck," said Gary Lemaster, a heavy equipment operator from the Jean Duluth location.
168 St. Louis County public works employees started their strike bright and early at 7 a.m.
In big, red, bold letters their picket signs read "On Strike."
The members were chanting at the 12 different county public works garages, letting the county know they're not backing down anytime soon.
Lemaster said he's been working for the county for 28 years.
"We've been struggling trying to get people to apply here because there's a disparity between the private sector and the government world here," said Lemaster.
"We don't want to be out here striking but enough is enough," said Daniel Foshay, a Teamsters member from the Pike Lake location.
"It's just a really sad day. It's heartbreaking," said Dana Kazel, the communications manager for St. Louis County.
The county put into action their contingency plan of sending supervisors and trained employees out on the roads as the Northland got hit with some more snow Wednesday afternoon.
"Right now we have about 35 plow operators either out on the roads or are preparing to go out from our garages across the county," said Kazel.
Kazel said they sent letters out to private driveway and road association snow plowing customers letting them know they won't be able to plow their roads during the strike. They encouraged customers to seek an alternative service provider for the duration of the strike.
"We would like to keep the roads clear, but there's a time where you gotta stand up for whats right," said Foshay.
"We go out there and we get the job done rather quickly. I don't believe that's going to happen from here on out," said Scott Olson, a plow operator from the Jean Duluth location.
Olson has been working with the county for eight years as a equipment operator.
"The last thing we wanted to do was go on strike. Everybody here takes a lot of pride in their job," said Olson. "It's unfair to new employees to get half of what somebody else is getting."
Teamsters were staying warm with fire pits. As bystanders drove by the different strike locations, some honked or dropped off food for the Teamsters.
"They are dedicated public servants and provide safe roads and bridges. We're not going to have that on county roads and that's disappointing," said Brian Aldes, a secretary for the Teamsters Local 320.
"We know the impact this is going to have on the employees and their families to lose income, and it's really disappointing. We also are aware of the impact this will have on our citizens," said Kazel.
In a press release, the county said the last final offer for a contract covering 2020-22 included base wage increases and other incentives totaling 10.5% to 12.5% over three years.
They also said they 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. However, they insist the Teamsters sticking point is the sick leave accrual cap.
The county explained that 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 said they rejected the union's request of a maximum 1,500 hour payout upon retirement due to the high price tag.
The Teamsters say there are issues with benefit and wage inequalities, healthcare alternatives, and seniority rights.
"Some employees either have better benefits and different retirement plans and we’re just trying to ask for the county to meet us halfway and that’s to be equal," said Foshay.
The Teamsters made it clear they're prepared to strike as long as they need to.
"We’re definitely out here until we get a contract and the county and Teamsters can reach an agreement," said Erik Skoog, the Teamsters Local 320 recording secretary.
The county said they're focused on resolving the labor dispute and bringing the team back together.
The Teamsters stopped picketing at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The county has a strike information page on its website to provide information on the strike, their contingency plans, and maps to show how roads are prioritized for plowing based on average traffic volume.
Updated: January 15, 2020 10:31 PM
Created: January 15, 2020 05:17 PM
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