DULUTH — The six-day strike by St. Louis County snowplow drivers is over.
Teamsters Local 320 announced late Monday afternoon, Jan. 20, it had ratified a three-year contract with the county. The two sides, bargaining in the presence of state mediators, reached the deal around 2 a.m. Monday after a 15-hour session.
The vote was 133-0, said Erik Skoog, chief negotiator for the employees.
According to news releases from both the county and the Teamsters, the contract includes base wage increases of 2% plus an additional 55 cents per hour in 2020, and 2.25% each in 2021 and 2022. It also includes a higher starting wage rate by almost 4% for new equipment operators plus other revisions to wage schedules that allow employees to accelerate through the salary ranges faster.
That means most employees over the three-year period will receive wage increases of 10.5% to 12.5% plus any scheduled paid step increases, which average 3.8%.
But wages had not been in dispute. The sticking point had been accrued sick leave at retirement. The union bargaining team had sought to have the maximum raised from 1,150 to 1,500 hours.
The union bargaining team ultimately conceded on that point, Skoog said in a telephone interview. But in return, the county agreed to allow the plow drivers to leave the county's health insurance plan and use a plan provided through the Teamsters instead. That will give members on the family plan a savings of as much as $410 per month, he said, and over time will provide a greater benefit to the employees without additional cost to the county.
Employees also will get two extra personal days, Skoog said.
Although the strike lasted less than a week, it had some bitter moments. On the third day of the strike, Brian Boder, the county's deputy director of maintenance for Public Works, complained that supervisors operating the plows were greeted by strikers with "middle-finger, single-finger salutes, four-letter words." Brian Aldes, secretary-treasurer and principal officer for Local 320, denied that. In a Facebook post on Sunday morning, Skoog complained about the county having three sheriff's deputies present at the mediation session.
But on Monday, Skoog said there would be no hard feelings.
"I don't think our relationships are tarnished at all through this," he said. "The county leadership has a responsibility to the taxpayers. I have a responsibility to the members of the (bargaining unit). ... In the end, both parties won."
The 168 employees who staged the six-day strike are expected to return to work Tuesday, according to the county.
"We are thankful to have reached this agreement and to welcome our employees back to work," Kevin Gray, county administrator, said in the news release. "Both sides worked very hard to get to this point."
Upon completion of a legal review by both parties, the County Board is expected to ratify the contract by the end of February, according to the county's news release. It will be retroactive to Jan. 1.
The strike, which took place as a snowstorm went through the area, drew the interest of political figures.
Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden reached out to the drivers in a tweet Sunday morning: "Every worker in this country deserves the dignity that comes with fair wages and benefits."
Biden joined several presidential candidates, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders, to proclaim their solidarity with the strikers. U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, visited the picket line Friday.