Minn. Local Takes Contract Fight to City Hall
May 31, 2013
Two Harbors, Minn., power and water workers are going public about stalled efforts to renew their two- year contract.
On May 13, more than 30 people joined a picket line outside city hall. Inside, city leaders were in a special session to decide if they would change their negotiating strategy from what Duluth, Minn., Local 31 Business Manager Mark Glazier called “stalling and low-balling.”
Members of other municipal and trade unions and fellow Local 31 members from other units came to support three linemen and four water workers whose collective bargaining agreement with Two Harbors expired Jan. 1.
Business Representative Cheri Stewart, a member of the negotiating team, said members were initially optimistic that the three-year wage freeze would come to an end and a new deal would begin to close the gap between wages and benefits in Two Harbors and other nearby utilities and municipalities. Stewart said members of Local 31 who work at Cooperative Light and Power in Two Harbors and Minnesota Power in Duluth make at least $10 more per hour.
But from the beginning, Glazier said the city has delayed talks and never improved on its initial proposal, a deal that increased wages and cut benefits, effectively maintaining the wage freeze for two more years.
“I know why we ended up with wage freezes, but we’ve seen the books. We know they are financially in good shape,” Glazier said. “No other city is being like this now. They’re just not willing to negotiate.”
“After the membership rejected the city’s offer in early January, the city came back real negative,” Stewart said. The city’s next offer cut wages and increased health care costs. “They said it was to punish us.”
Counteroffers proposed by Local 31 – including a one-year deal with a 1 percent raise -- were rejected. Two Harbors’ final offer: zero this year, 1 percent next year and employees paying a higher share of health care costs.
“It wasn’t even surface bargaining. It wasn’t bargaining at all,” said Sixth District International Representative Shawn Reents, whom Glazier asked to come to the final session.
That’s when Local 31 members began planning the public campaign. In the weeks before the special session, Local 31 members delivered more than 1,000 leaflets a town with a population of almost 3,800.
“The message was still, ‘We will make a deal if the city meets us part of the way,’” Glazier said.
But May 21, Two Harbors negotiators delivered one more rejection. The final offer stood. They wouldn’t budge.
“This was essentially the first offer and I don't think it's something our guys can accept,” said Glazier, who added that further public actions are being contemplated. “We’re hopeful we can reach an agreement.”