Winter Weather Minnesota

A car slowly travels down a road after a second round of snow passed through northern Minnesota Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. 

(The Center Square) – St. Louis County snowplow drivers and other public works employees in Teamsters Local 320 will meet Jan. 9 to ratify a tentative agreement that took more than five months to achieve, according to Union President Erik Skoog.

Mediation between county representatives, which included law firm Madden Galanter Hansen, and the union regarding the three-year contract included a meeting Oct. 21 that lasted just a few minutes, Skoog told The Center Square in a phone interview.

Since the union’s previous contract expired Dec. 31, it intended to file Jan. 2 its intent to strike, Skoog said. The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services called Skoog Dec. 29. The state mediator helped the union and county quickly find common ground, Skoog said.

“My hat’s off to the state for reaching out,” he said.

Bureau Labor Mediation Manager Mike Stockstead told The Center Square in a phone interview that the office discussed mediations Dec. 29. Public sector employers and employees can petition the bureau to help resolve labor management disputes if they reach an impasse, and the bureau will assign a mediator, Stockstead said. He said the bureau annually handles roughly 3,000 cases, which include grievances and contracts.

Under the agreement, St. Louis County will provide Teamsters with a 3% general wage increase each year of the contract. The county will also give workers a crane licensure stipend, insurance premium protection, a new apprenticeship program and a $0.25 per hour private use allowance, a Dec. 29 Teamsters news release said. Teamsters also gained an increased cold weather gear allowance to address employees’ concerns regarding health and safety.

He said he’s disappointed that the negotiations took five months and the union wanted to end discussions in September, but parties needed to be satisfied that they’ve communicated their positions accurately. Skoog said the law firm representing St. Louis County is known for dragging out negotiations. The law firm bills the county for lawyers’ travel from its offices in Bloomington to the county, in Duluth, according to Skoog. He said it’s a longstanding contract without many nuances that need legal attention.

The Center Square asked St. Louis County officials how much time and money St. Louis County and Madden Galanter Hansen spent on the negotiations with the union, whether the county pays Madden Galanter Hansen for travel time and what challenges occurred during the more than five months of negotiations. The Center Square also asked whether negotiations included an Oct. 21 meeting of the duration that Skoog described. 

Communications Manager Dana Kazel told The Center Square in an emailed statement Wednesday that the county has staff and a contracted labor attorney who participate in labor negotiations with the 11 bargaining units that represent the county’s more than 1,900 employees. She said the first negotiations session with the Teamsters took place in mid-July, and the tentative agreement was reached last week, before the previous agreement expired.

“The county recognizes all of the union organizations for the roles they have in representing our employees, including negotiation of labor agreements,” Kazel said. “To that end, we choose not to comment on the processes or strategies leveraged by those labor organizations. The county feels we have a shared interest in negotiating agreements that are fair to both our employees and the residents and businesses we serve.”

Kagel’s email also included excerpts from the county’s public statement, which confirmed the tentative agreement and said the full details of the deal will be available once the union ratifies it.