St. Paul public works and other laborers reject contract offer, laying groundwork for strike

A coalition of unions representing St. Paul snowplow drivers, water workers and other city laborers on Tuesday voted down a two-year contract offer from the city, setting the stage for a possible strike.

Members of Laborers Local 363, Teamsters 120 and Operating Engineers 49 — about 280 employees of St. Paul Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Sewer and Water Services — authorized a strike action, which would not need a subsequent vote to commence. If the unions file an intent to strike with the Bureau of Mediation Services, state law requires a 10-day cooling off period.

Workers interviewed outside the union hall in St. Anthony, where the vote took place, said the city had offered no wage increase for the first year of the contract, followed by an increase of 1.5 percent in the second year.

Spokesmen for the unions did not immediately disclose the vote totals or confirm details of the city’s offer. They said contract negotiations over the past year have led to three mediation sessions, and the unions would have to consider next steps. They noted that during the pandemic, workers took front-line roles disassembling homeless encampments and performing essential services.

“To avert a strike, we’ve done everything we could,” said Troy Gustafson, business agent for Teamsters Local 120. “They came back with an offer that’s subpar, to say the least.”

City officials said the primary point of discussion has been wages, and the offer made to the unions is in line with what was offered to seven other bargaining units, which have already settled their contracts.

“Our city workers demonstrate their dedication to our residents and businesses every day,” St. Paul Communications Director Peter Leggett said in an email Tuesday evening. “We are grateful for their service and hopeful that our ongoing discussions will lead to a positive resolution.”

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