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Workers & County Weigh In On Potential Strike

Emily Ness
Updated: January 12, 2020 08:58 PM

On Sunday, Teamsters began making picket signs for a potential strike. This comes a day after they rejected St. Louis County’s final contract offer.

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According to Eric Skoog, Recording Secretary for the Teamsters, the group maintains hope that they won’t have to strike, but says that tensions surrounding benefits have been on the rise for years—including tensions with their county health plan.

"The straw that broke the camel’s back was in 2017 when once again, their experts gave a set amount and the county board chose to adopt a rate much higher and we said: 'That’s it. The Teamsters—when we come back to the negotiating table, we will not stay with the county plan,'" Skoog said.

When their contract expired and they filed notice to strike, Skoog said the Teamsters came to the negotiating table with hopes of leaving or revising the county health plan. According to Skoog, the county supported them leaving, but took dental insurance out of their final offer.

“We agreed to their increases for 2020. We agreed with their new rates and percentages and how they are calculated and the percentage of the premiums that our membership will have to pay. We’ve agreed to all of that. We agreed to the dollar amount should we leave the county plan, but then they threw us this curve ball with dental insurance,” Skoog said.

According to Skoog, this would be a pure cost savings that the Teamsters would bear the burden of. It was one of many issues the two parties worked towards finding common ground on as they looked ahead.

“We have some people that haven’t worked at the county very long and you know, they want to have a say in their future—very similar to myself when I became a Teamster 23 years ago,” Skoog said.

During their picket sign making gathering, other Teamsters expressed their feelings about the matter.

Connie Westlund, Heavy Equipment Operator said that everyone loves their job and takes pride in what they do.

“Seeing the solidarity, seeing the strength of everybody and keeping everybody together—these are big steps,” Westlund said.

Cory Garden, Senior Operator said that he hopes everyone can come to an agreement.

“We’re doing it for everybody. I’m not doing it for myself. We’re doing it for all of our members,” Garden said.

On the other side of the negotiating table is St. Louis County who says that these are some of the hardest working and visible employees.

“In the overall scheme of things, we’re very pleased with the proposal we put before them and hope that they will get to that point and accept this offer,” Kevin Gray, St. Louis County Administrator said.

According to Gray, the package is a three year agreement.

“It represents base increases of 2%, to 2.25% to 2.25% or 6.5% percent for the period of the contract, but in addition, there are other step increases and pay grade increases and things that collectively most of these employees would be looking at 10.5-12.5% as their economic package over the three years, so we thought that was a really good number” Gray said.

Gray said the county also agreed to increase maximum sick leave accrual from 1,250 to 1,350 hours, but the Teamsters wanted a maximum 1,500 hour payout upon retirement. The county denied that request because it would create a potential $18.5 million taxpayer liability for future payout costs.

“We’ve had three weeks of parental leave, we’ve increased our vacation accrual, our sick leave accruals, we’ve really tried to make this a solid package,” Gray said. “We believe that it's fair to the tax payers, it’s fair to our employees and it's consistent with what other bargaining units have been receiving."

Should the teamsters strike, Gray said the county has a plan in place to continue plowing roads.

“In the event that there’s a strike, we’ve got a contingency plan in place and want to assure our listeners and residents of St. Louis County that we’ve got a plan in place to put public safety first and to continue to plow our routes and our county roads. We’ll have to prioritize those, but we are ready and prepared in the event that there is a strike,” Gray said.

Gray said that St. Louis County too, hopes to avoid a strike.

“These are employees that get up early in the morning to be available, leave their homes to put the public first and in this case now, we've been informed that they've rejected our last, final offer at the bargaining table and so that's disheartening and we think it's a missed opportunity,” Gray said. "I think Teamster leadership had a chance to really, truly portray a fair and solid offer and it’s a missed opportunity on their part and to put their members—our employees in a strike situation potentially where they’re going to lose time and finances. That’s something that’s not healthy for anybody."

The window for a strike begins Jan. 14 and ends Feb. 3. Should the Teamsters strike, Skoog said they will strike over a dozen tool sheds in the county.

Credits

Emily Ness

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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