Cold temperatures fueled Teamsters’ resolve

By Catherine Conlan
In the summer, we all know it’s not the heat that gets you, but the humidity. For the Teamsters, they say victory came not with the snow, but the cold.
As far as timing goes, Teamsters 320 couldn’t have asked for better weather for its five-day strike. Cold but mostly windless days, and two serious snowfalls — a weekday squall with just enough to be troublesome, and a weekend dump that made it clear that plowing the roads is a job for the regulars.
But Teamster leaders say it wasn’t the big snow on the weekend that got the employer to blink. It was the cold snap on Thursday.
“That’s what galvanized our group and showed the employer we were serious,” said Erik Skoog, Teamster 320 business agent and member of the negotiating committee. “It was 20 below that morning in Virginia — I don’t even know what it was in Embarrass or Cook, but it was cold.
“Obviously theres’s an optimal time to perform an action depending on your craft,” Skoog said. And while a snowy weekend might seem like the perfect time to strike for snow plow drivers, Skoog assured me that 20 below is not exactly optimal.
But nobody crossed the line.
“That showed the employer we were serious,” Skoog said.
Secretary treasurer Brian Aldes agreed.
“When it was 20, 25 below, when we went outside Thursday morning, no doubt the employer thought they’d come barrelling across the picket line to go to work and get warm,” he said. “For managers out plowing, it was probably the snow day that was hard. But I think the county administration believed that people would come in when it was cold. But they were wrong.”
Going on strike is a hard decision and even harder work once you’re out on the line. Teamster 320 members were all in, though, once the decision to strike had been made, and it’s clear that the support they got from the community helped fuel their high spirits on the picket line.
Skoog said that at one point during the strike, he was talking to a strike captain in Hibbing who had just taken a delivery of six pizzas — and as they were talking, six more came along, donations from friends of Labor who wanted to help.
No doubt it was frustrating to watch supervisors drive past when the experts on snow clearing stood by the gates, but that’s how we make progress, and from all accounts, that’s what the Teamsters got when they voted to approve the tentative agreement Monday. It’s the latest in several actions that have flexed Labor’s muscle in the Northland in the past year. Is it a trend?
“The Teamsters have always been here, but this shows the Teamsters are back,” Skoog said. “They’ve woke a sleeping giant. Our local hasn’t had a strike for more than 20 years, and the success of this one shows the aptitude and leadership of those who came before us.”
Skoog and Aldes stressed that the support from the public was vital for the actions success, and Skoog said it could indicate a new era of Labor action.
“Sometimes you need to fight back,” he said. “We showed the Northland and the state of Minnesota that if you keep pushing the bear, the bear’s going to get mad. That’s how history will reflect this. It could be the start of something big.”

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