Updated: January 15, 2020 10:20 AM
The union representing St. Louis County plow drivers went on strike Wednesday morning.
Eric Skoog, Recording Secretary for Teamsters Local 320, posted the strike plans on his Facebook page Tuesday. The post said the strike would begin Wednesday at 7 a.m.
He said team members will strike at 12 different St. Louis County Public Works garages across the Northland.
Besides pickets at each public works location around the county, the union said in a news release that it will send out "mobile pickets" to follow public works vehicles not driven by union members.
"This was a tough decision for the membership to make," said Brian Aldes, Teamsters Local 320 Secretary Treasurer and Principal Officer, in a news release. "However, the Teamsters employed by St. Louis County deserve parity of benefits with the civil service and merit employees."
Now that the strike has begun, it can continue indefinitely. The union said it is prepared to strike until their demands are met.
The window for a strike opened up on Tuesday morning, but plow drivers still reported to work to clear the freshly-fallen snow.
Tom Ostman, a senior equipment operator for the county, said the Teamsters are going to voice their wants and concerns loud and clear.
"We're going to let the public know we're here, we're hurt, we want the people to stand behind us. Let them know we're serious about our jobs," said Ostman.
Ostman has been working with the county for three years. He said they understand the impact this may have and hope it's not a long strike.
"I'm sure some people think that we're leaving them high and dry and that's not the message we want to send. We want to be out there with the public. We want to make sure that everyone gets to their destination safe, get our kids to school. I have kids too and I want them to get to school safe. I hope it gets solved before we get any major snow," said Ostman.
The county said Monday that they were still hopeful that a strike can be avoided but have been forming a backup plowing plan for several weeks. It involves having their own trained staff step in and help.
"We do have contingency plans in place. It's never ideal, but it's workable. So we will be able to plow roads and people are not going to be snowed in indefinitely," County Communications Manager Dana Kazel said Monday.
The county's plan involves using public works department supervisors, in addition to other employees and departments who are licensed and qualified to plow over 3,000 miles of roads the county is in charge of.
"We have mapped out all of the county roads and prioritize them based on traffic count. We have identified which roads are top priority and most important to plow first, like the secondary and third, etc." said Kazel.
Some of them include heavy traffic roads like Rice Lake, Arrowhead, Midway, Martin, and Haines Road. Additional maps of prioritized roads are listed here.
Getting roads plowed timely is important to everyone, but with a smaller amount of plowing staff in the county due to the potential strike, timely plowing efforts might be affected.
"We will get you plowed out, but adjust your expectations because it obviously will take longer with a smaller crew working, but we will get there," said Kazel.
Kazel also said there's benefits to having a big county, it means you can help other areas that are more heavily affected by the snow.
"One of the luxuries of having a county this size when a weather event hits is it usually doesn't hit the entire county equally hard. So this crew, even though it's smaller than what we would typically have, it also can be mobile," said Kazel.
The Teamsters rejected the county's final contract offer Saturday after 12 hours of mediation, saying it fails to address issues concerning equity of sick and vacation leave accumulation and affordable health insurance.
"We made our last best final offer and it was a generous offer but the teamsters rejected it, so the ball is in their court now," said Kazel.
"One day longer, one day stronger, as long as it takes," said Ostman.
Kazel also said the claims by the Teamsters that the county wasn't letting them leave their medical plan or that they were not letting them leave because they weren't paying for dental is not true.
"We made a significant concession to allow them to leave the county's health insurance plan and go out on their own. The plan that they had presented to us showed that it had medical, dental, and vision all embedded in that plan," said Kazel.
The Teamsters said they would be willing to have another mediation session if the county shows interest in their wants.
"We're open as long as they're willing to start bending towards what we're looking for. We want our benefits answered and want to make sure we get some retirement in there so we can make a living after work too," said Ostman.
Updated: January 15, 2020 10:20 AM
Created: January 13, 2020 05:07 PM
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