ST PAUL, Minn. — St. Paul's public works, parks, sewer and water workers could soon be heading for the picket line after they voted Wednesday night to authorize a strike.
The employees, who are represented by the Tri-Council of IUOE Local 49, Teamsters 120 and LIUNA Local 363, voted unanimously to authorize the strike, meaning if negotiations break down or a final offer is rejected workers could walk off the job as early as March 20.
“Over the past two years our members worked on the frontline, putting their lives at risk to provide the essential services that the City and residents rely on," AJ Lange, business manager of LIUNA Local 363 said in a statement.
"At the same time, we have seen historic levels of inflation and our members deserve the dignity of a raise that maintains their standard of living so they can provide for their families. Working people have budgets too and we are just trying to make ends meet,” Lange added.
According to the Tri-Council, union members received a one percent raise in 2021 and a two-and-a-half percent raise in 2022.
"Employers in the private and public sector have responded accordingly raising wages and benefits to get people through the door. However, the City of Saint Paul is just not as competitive when you compare similar job titles to neighboring metro area employers," Lange said.
In a statement, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter wrote, "The extreme weather we've experienced these past several weeks has strongly underscored the value our public workers provide to our community."
He went on to say the City will negotiate with urgency and good faith to reach a positive resolution.
Lange says negotiations with the City are expected to continue tomorrow, March 10.
IUOE Local 49 representative Jonathan Young says critical frontline workers are underpaid. Local 49 represents more than 14,000 heavy equipment operators, mechanics and stationary engineers across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Local 49 Business Manager Jason George said to Mayor Carter, “They hear you applaud their work, now they need to see you pay them what they are worth and what they have earned. A budget is about priorities - you need to show these workers they are a priority."
The St. Paul Public Works Department is one of the largest organizations in Minnesota, according to the city website, and is responsible for maintaining more than 1,800 miles of streets, which includes plowing and street sweeping. The department is also responsible for hundreds of miles of sewers, bike lanes and traffic signals.
The Parks and Rec. Department manages more than 180 parks and open spaces, the Como Park Zoo and 26 city-operated rec centers, while St. Paul Regional Water Services monitors the city’s drinking water.
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