DULUTH – A plow drivers' strike is coming to St. Louis County, though the timing remains undisclosed.
The Teamsters Local 320 can legally start the strike as of Tuesday morning. Business agent Erik Skoog said the union will release information on any work stoppage as it occurs and won't have any further comment until then.
Members were asked to take home personal items from work by the end of the day Monday.
"We will let you know in the very near future when we plan a work stoppage," Local 320 secretary-treasurer Brian Aldes told members Monday night.
The region saw 2-4 inches of snow overnight, and another 2-5 inches are expected by Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. A storm could drop more than 6 inches on southern St. Louis County Friday into Saturday, with less snow expected farther north.
County spokeswoman Dana Kazel said plows would be called to work Tuesday morning.
Edward Reynoso, political director for the Minneapolis-based Teamsters Joint Council 32, planned to speak privately with St. Louis County commissioners after Tuesday's board meeting in Midway Township.
When asked about the timing of the strike, he simply said it would be soon.
"We have the leverage now," Reynoso said. "Baseball players aren't going to strike during football season."
Commissioners made no mention of the contract dispute at the meeting.
If a strike were to occur, supervisors and other licensed plow operators from other departments would go to work clearing snow. The county has given priority to the roads with the most traffic, Kazel said.
Hermantown, which has some of the busiest roads maintained by the county, expects the contingency plan will sufficiently cover the area, city spokesman Joe Wicklund said.
The public works department of Minnesota's geographically largest county is responsible for more than 3,000 miles of roads in total. The county owns 150 plows and 43 graders.
The Teamsters Local 320 union represents more than 160 employees, including plow drivers/equipment operators, mechanics, sign technicians and others.
Members voted to authorize a strike in December as contract talks broke down over wages, health care and paid time off accrual and payout. Following negotiations with a state mediator Friday, members voted down St. Louis County's final offer on Saturday. Under state law, the local has until Feb. 3 to begin a strike.
State mediators have reached out "to see if we were open to exploring further settlement offers," Aldes said Monday, but the paid time off issue remains unsolved.
The county this weekend said it rejected the union's request to increase to 1,500 hours the maximum amount of sick leave that can be paid out upon retirement.
"The estimated cost of this demand for Teamster members alone is $1.5 million, and to extend that increase to all employees, which would be a likely expectation, would create a potential $18.5 million taxpayer liability for future payout costs," according to a statement from the county.
While a plow strike was threatened in previous negotiations in 2011, a deal was reached before a walkout, according to the county.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496