5-day strike gets win for Teamsters

Teamsters Local 320 had a lot to be proud of after its five-day strike last week resulted in the gains it had wanted. But Brian Aldes, secretary treasurer of the local, says its members are proud of the community as well.
“What was important in this strike was the public to see that this isn’t just about the St. Louis County Teamsters,” he said. “This is about Teamsters locals from around the state and converging on the county. It wasn’t just about the 171 men and women hitting the picket lines — it was about Teamsters coming up and dedicating their resources to supporting their brothers and sisters.”
Teamsters went back to mediation on Sunday and ratified a tentative agreement with St. Louis County administration 133-0 on Monday afternoon.
The agreement provides wage increases over the next three years and allows the local to join the Teamsters Joint Council 32 Health and Welfare Plan, as well as other changes to health and welfare benefits.
“That was the sticking point,” Aldes said. “This strike was not about wages. This strike was about health care and economic security post-employment.”
The Teamsters plans has better premiums and very similar coverage to the St. Louis County self-insured health plan, Aldes said.
Erik Skoog, business agent and member of the negotiation committee, praised the creativity of the agreement. “One thing in strikes that’s important is finding that common ground, and this tentative agreement does that,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts, but we were able to save money and gain what we needed to, and they were able to control their costs and save money as well.”
Teamsters 320 covers St. Louis County snow plow drivers, mechanics and other positions. Aldes said he believes the action highlighted to the public how important the work these people do is to everyone — and how Teamsters do not take that work for granted.
“It weighed heavy on the hearts of the St. Louis County Teamsters that there were not safe county roads for travel; that really bothered them,” he said. “They take a lot of pride in making sure those roads are safe to travel. That was tough for them and that was probably the toughest part.”
Supervisors took over plowing responsibilities during a small snow on Wednesday afternoon and a larger system over the weekend. Roads were cleared more slowly than usual and social media posts highlighted areas that weren’t completed to the usual standard.
Support from the public was strong during the strike. Local politicians including city councilors, state reps and senators, county commissioners and Congressman Pete Stauber made appearances on the picket line, and the public dropped off food, supplies and cash regularly, Aldes said.
Skoog stressed that while strikes can be divisive, he said he’s not concerned about bad feelings now that this one is settled. “We’ve had an excellent relationship with the county. Both parties will have a different level of respect for each other from now on.”
Support from the public was strong during the strike. Local politicians including city councilors, state reps and senators, county commissioners and Congressman Pete Stauber made appearances on the picket line, and the public dropped off food, supplies and cash regularly, Aldes said.

The strike begins
After a 10-day cooling off period that began January 1, the Teamsters went out Wednesday morning, January 15. They stocked burn barrels, fired up propane heaters and handed out signs at the entrances of garages throughout the county. As they did so, morale was high.
“We’re just hoping to get equality,” said Tom Allen, who has been a mechanic for two years and was working the picket at the St. Louis County garage on Jean Duluth Road last week. “We’re looking to be long-term employees and we do a good job. We’re out here working for equal pay and equal rights.”
While plowing has gotten a lot of attention in this snowy (and rainy) winter, Cory Garden, a senior operator and member of the negotiation committee, stressed that the county workers do a wide variety of important jobs, such as working in the sign department, bridge inspection and equipment maintenance.
“About 65 percent of the job is plowing snow, but we also take care of the gravel roads, the rights-of-way, potholes…we just help make sure the public gets from A to B,” he said on the picket at the large St. Louis County garage at Midway Road and Hwy. 53 on January 15. “If there’s a windstorm or water on the roads, we’re out there helping.”
Garden added that this spring is likely to be a tough one, not only because of the melting snow, but because of the frozen rain from last December under the snow. Managing frozen culverts and flooded driveways are part of their work as well.
The disparity among employee benefits is divisive and frustrating, said Dan Foshay, an equipment operator who started just a few months ago and who was picketing at the Midway Road garage. Little things like a small increase in health-care premiums are a bigger hit for those driving the plows than in management, he said.
The strike response was been strong, said Sami Gabriel, president/business agent of Local 320. “We’ve had tremendous support,” she added while working a table full of treats and hot coffee next to the Local 320 trailer parked at the Midway garage. The Teamsters 120 semi truck made appearances at several garages, dropping off pallets to burn and laying on the horn in solidarity. And more cars than not passing by honked in support as well. “They’re all hard core,” Gabriel said of the Local 320 members. “Some of them are old Iron Rangers — they’ve been through it before.”
At the Jean Duluth garage before the snow fell on January 15, a plow was visible moving around the property. “Look, they’re practicing,” laughed one of the people on the line.

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