Plow drivers on strike in snowy northeastern Minnesota

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Union snowplow drivers went on strike in northeastern Minnesota where a winter weather advisory was posted as snow moved into the region.

Teamsters Local 320 official Brian Aldes said the strike in St. Louis County began Wednesday. Union members voted overwhelmingly Saturday to reject the county’s final contract offer, citing issues over healthcare and accrued sick leave.

“These hardworking employees make a daily commitment to drive into blizzard conditions when most folks avoid inclement weather,” Erik Skoog, the union’s chief negotiator said in a Facebook post. “These employees spend nights, holidays, and weekends clearing roads in dangerous conditions and will not continue to be second class employees.”

County officials have a contingency plan to keep roads plowed. Public works supervisors and staff in other departments are qualified and licensed to operate the snowplows, according to county spokeswoman Dana Kazel.

“Public safety is our top priority and we will get the roads plowed, but it’s a smaller workforce so (residents) will have to be patient,” Kazel said.

Public Works supervisors and other licensed and qualified staff from other divisions and departments were driving the plows after union members went on strike, the county said.

“We hoped this action could have been avoided,” County Administrator Kevin Gray said in a statement. “Nevertheless, snow is falling and public safety remains our top priority, so we have implemented our contingency plans to plow the roads.”

St. Louis County’s Public Works Department plows more than 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) of roads.

The National Weather Service says a couple of inches of snow have fallen in parts of the county Wednesday. But a system bringing more than 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of snow and up to 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) along Lake Superior is expected to move in Friday.