January 23, 2020
Another brutal snowstorm hits the area, dumping 10-12 inches of snow while county plow drivers were on strike
This has to be one of the worst winters for snow accumulation that can be remembered in a long time. The first snowstorm came through near the end of November. There have been at least four huge storms dumping an average of six to 10 inches of snow each time. The last one came through Friday night through Sunday with 10 to 12 inches of reported snow. This storm had residents more worried since the county crews who plow the roads were on strike. Supervisors and others not on strike did keep the main roads open. The good news is that the two sides came to a reported agreement on Monday.
A check on the Internet showed that the latest report shows Cook has a snow depth of 23 inches, Orr 26 inches, Tower 33 inches and Hibbing 33 inches. Many who keep an unofficial tally of the amount of snow that has fallen say at least 50 inches has fallen in some areas and we are still in January. Northern Minnesota has seen heavy snowstorms going into April.
There are no reports of any injuries or deaths from the storm or of any roofs collapsing except for a partial collapse at the Coca-Cola plant in Virginia after the last storm.
Tentative agreement reached to end strike; county issues statement
On Monday, Jan. 20, St. Louis County learned that employees of its Highway Maintenance Division, late in the afternoon, approved a tentative contract agreement, bringing an end to the six-day strike. The 168 employees who are members of Teamster local 320 were expected to return to work Tuesday.
"We are thankful to have reached this agreement and to welcome our employees back to work," said Kevin Gray, St. Louis County administrator. "Both sides worked very hard to get to this point. This has been a challenging time for all of us. We have always recognized the hard work and important contributions of these employees, and our focus now is to move forward again as a team."
The tentative agreement was reached Monday at approximately 2 a.m., following 15 hours of mediation. Details of the agreement are largely as have been previously released: the three-year contract is for 2020-22, and includes base wage increases of 2 percent plus an additional $0.55 cents per hour in 2020, 2.25 percent in 2021, and 2.25 percent in 2022. Also included is a higher starting wage rate (nearly 4 percent higher) for new equipment operators, plus other revisions to wage schedules that allow employees to accelerate through the salary ranges faster. This means most employees, over the three year period, will receive wage increases of 10.5 percent to 12.5 percent, as well as any scheduled paid step increases, which average 3.8 percent.
For health insurance, which was an identified focus area for the union, the county agreed to the union's request to allow the bargaining unit to choose to leave the county's self-insured health plan in the future with an employer contribution up to the amount provided to employees covered by its own self-insured health plan.
While the proposed agreement does not include any changes to the sick leave accrual cap, as originally requested by the union, it does include enhanced funding with a health savings account option, for the Teamsters health insurance plan, should they elect to leave the county plan. The total cost for this provision will not exceed what the county contributes for employees in its own plan, but provides additional flexibility for the union.
Also new as a result of the latest mediation is employees in this bargaining unit will receive one additional permanent personal leave day per year beginning in 2021. Additionally a deal was reached that will provide another personal leave day sun setting in 2022, in exchange for concessions to give the county more flexibility to use seasonal highway laborers year around.
"I want to again thank our supervisors who stepped in to ensure our roads were plowed so the public could safely travel," said Gray. "Special thanks also goes to Commissioner Jan Johnson of the Bureau of Mediation Services and her team for facilitating meetings and working with both parties to reach a successful conclusion. Lastly, I'm appreciative of the Board for its commitment to reaching a respectful resolution that serves our employees as well as our taxpayers."
Upon completion of legal review by both parties, the County Board is expected to ratify the contract by the end of February. The contract will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020.
ATVAM tackles big issues at Annual Legislative Summit
ATV Clubs Submit 20 Resolutions
(From the Jan. 17 ATVAM Newsletter)
Trail funding... low pressure tires... public campgrounds for ATV riders... accessing towns on state highways... and much more. If it's an issue important to Minnesota's ATV clubs and their members, there's a good chance it was discussed at the 2020 ATVAM Legislative Summit.
Creating a positive future for ATVing in Minnesota starts at the Summit. That was clearly the focus of this year's meeting, attended by 45 members of ATV clubs from across the state, ATVAM lobbyists, and staff members of the Minnesota DNR divisions of Parks & Trails and Enforcement.
The four-hour meeting was held Jan. 11 at Jimmy's Event Center in Vadnais Heights. Among the coffee cups and pastries on a dozen tables were maps of future ATV trails and 20 resolutions submitted by ATV clubs: presented, debated, prioritized and voted on. With lively discussions by club leaders, lobbyists and the DNR.
Ray Bohn, ATVAM lobbyist, kicked off the meeting with a review of resolutions passed a year ago, turned into bills and successfully moved through the State Legislature. They include funding initiatives for new trails, a key bridge to connect trail systems, opening roads in the Beltrami State Forest for important connector trails, and removing the snorkel ban. "We made a lot of progress last year," said Bohn. "This is a bonding year, so it will be more difficult to move policy issues forward in the next Legislative Session, but we will try."
Voted as top priorities: Among the 20 resolutions submitted by ATV clubs, those voted as top priorities to move to the Legislature include:
-Doing a statewide inventory of ATV riding opportunities on public lands in order to create four regional Master Plans.
-Revising the DNR's definition of an ATV, removing the words "low pressure or non-pneumatic tires." The wording is outdated and unnecessary. Seven supporting facts were provided.
-Supporting a proposal by MnUSA (state association of snowmobile clubs) to increase the penalty for civil trespass from $50 to $200, to protect landowners' rights and discourage trespassing.
-Supporting a $1 million bonding request by Voyageur Country ATV for expansion of ATV trails, with partial matching funds from the state ATV-dedicated fund.
-Supporting a request by the Prospector ATV Club for $450,000 from the ATV-dedicated account for environmental and engineering work, to construct new ATV trails.
-Supporting the Minnesota DNR Parks & Trail's bonding bill to build a campground at the Clear River site in Beltrami State Forest.
CLWSD board holds reorganization meeting, welcomes new member Bonnie Caughey
Flu epidemic closes Tower-Soudan K-6 school last Thursday and Friday
Letters to the Editor...