SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Negotiations continued Monday evening between three labor unions and the city of St. Paul, involving more than 200 public employees who work to plow snow, fix potholes, and handle sewer and water operations.
Teamsters Local 120, LIUNA Local 363, and Operating Engineers Local 49 voted to authorize a strike earlier this month. Following a 10-day "cooling off period," a labor representative told KARE 11 that the workers could strike as early as Tuesday if they choose, although there is no guarantee of that.
Union leaders have said they want safer working conditions, bolstered staff, and better pay. Their most recent two-year contract expired on December 31, 2022.
"In 2021, they got a one-percent raise. In 2022, they got a 2.5-percent raise," said David Larson, a professor of labor and employment law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. "So, it's not as though their wages have kept up with inflation."
With lingering winter weather and one of the most disruptive pothole seasons in recent memory, this particular labor dispute has drawn significant public interest in St. Paul.
"This is the time for the unions to negotiate. We're talking about the snow-plowers and the pot-hole fixers, and if there ever was a time we needed them, it's right now. So, their leverage is really great right now," Larson said. "They know the right time to exert their power."
A spokesperson for Mayor Melvin Carter did not provide any updates on the negotiations Monday evening.
Previously, the mayor has promised to work toward a solution, saying "the extreme weather we've experienced these past several weeks has strongly underscored the value our public workers provide to our community."
This is the latest in a series of labor disputes involving public employees in Minnesota, such as those involving teachers and food service workers.
"I think there are more labor disputes in general, partly because of what's happening in our economy. We've had really high inflation and in very few places have wages kept pace with inflation," Larson said. "There's a real demand among workers to try and get better wages. Employers are in a difficult position. COVID affected their profits and their earnings. It's a really difficult economic time."