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St. Louis County plow drivers set for strike

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DULUTH, MN. -- The timing couldn't be worse for St. Louis County plow drivers to go on strike. It's looking more and more likely as the county continues their back and forth with the union drivers.

When the clock strikes midnight Monday night there will be a potential for the Teamsters Local 320 union to walk off the job at any time within the next 20 days.

If the union does decide to walk off the job during that time period, the county will have put a new plan in place to clear off the more than three thousand miles of roads in the county. According to county spokespeople, all union plow drivers showed up for work Tuesday morning.

No matter what happens, county officials are saying it will be a slower process, which has some business owners concerned about the access to their shops.

The state's largest county, geographically speaking, is headed toward a strike just in time for snow to hit the area which will have a big impact on the more than three thousand miles of roads.

"When people have to get out, they find a way. So things will still get plowed, but by who, we will see", said John Chalstrom, Owner of Chalstrom's Archery.

Teamsters Local 320, which represents more than 160 public works employees, voted 117-8 on Saturday to reject the county's final contract offer.

Talks between the county and the local broke down last month over wages, seniority rights and health care.

The local voted in December to authorize a strike, and on New Year's Day union officials gave the state notice of intent to strike. Although the new team will be smaller, the county's communications manager says it will be flexible.

"It's not often that the entire county is it hard, and so this is a mobile crew so if Duluth get's hit we can pull in resources from the range. If the range or farther north we can people up that way.", said Dana Kazel, St. Louis County Communications Manger.

That strike prompted a 10-day period, where the two parties couldn't meet to talk contracts. After that ten day period, mediation had to happen before a work stoppage could occur.

Now they must come to terms by midnight Monday night or there won't be any union county plow drivers on the road when the flakes start to fall later this week.

One local business on Highway 4 is hopeful this doesn't cause a huge blow to business.

"I sure don't like to see it. I like my customers to be able to drive up Highway 4 without any problems", said Chalstrom.

The county hopes to do just that by bringing in workers to keep the roads clear of snow.

"We have supervisors in the public works department, we also have several additional employees in other departments who are all licensed and qualified to drive snow plows. The big message for the public is roads will still be plowed, it may take us longer, but we do have licensed qualified operators to drive the plows", said Kazel.

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Ryan Compeau

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