St. Louis County has been informed that workers in its Highway Maintenance Division — members of Teamsters Local 320 — have rejected the county’s contract offer, moving them closer toward potential strike activity.
“We are disappointed in the outcome of today’s vote rejecting this Last Best Final Offer,” said County Administrator Kevin Gray. “It was a solid proposal that was fair to our employees, is consistent with what other bargaining units have overwhelmingly approved, and respectful of the financial impact on our taxpayers.”
The county’s proposed three-year contract offer for 2020-22 included base wage increases of 2% plus an additional $0.55 cents per hour in 2020, 2.25% in 2021, and 2.25% in 2022. The county also proposed a higher starting wage rate (nearly 4% higher) for new snow plow operators, and other revisions to wage schedules that allow employees accelerate through the salary ranges faster. This means most employees, over the three year period, would have received wage increases of 10.5% to 12.5%, as well as any scheduled paid step increases, which average 3.8%.
For health insurance, which was an identified focus area for the union, the county 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. If the unit ends up deciding to stay in the county’s plan, the county has offered new premium contribution levels that were consistent with the settlement reached with other unions.
Also, consistent with the settlement already achieved with more than 1,100 county employees, the county proposed increases to accrual rates of paid sick leave, vacation leave and bereavement benefits, plus three weeks of paid parental leave.
While the parties reached tentative agreements on many of the major economic items, a sticking point seems to be the sick leave accrual cap. The county agreed to increase maximum sick leave accrual from 1,250 to 1,350 hours, but rejected the union’s request of a maximum 1,500 hour payout upon retirement due to the high price tag. 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.
By raising this issue, the union is trying to change what they agreed to in a previous contract, and for the county to agree would be inconsistent with other bargaining settlements.
The County has been working on contingency plans for several weeks and is prepared to activate strike plans to ensure the delivery of road maintenance and snow removal services throughout St. Louis County. These plans include the use of supervisors and other licensed and qualified staff to plow roads.
“We know that road conditions in a snow event are a major concern for our citizens, and this is something we take very seriously,” said Gray. “We will continue to put public safety as a first priority. It is disheartening to see Teamster leadership making references on social media as if this is some sort of a game. More significantly, it is disappointing that they would place county employees and union members on the picket line to bear the brunt of financial impact in lost time and wages.”
The current 10-day cooling off period ends Monday, meaning the union could strike as early as 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, January 14.