Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

No contract yet; city workers strike imminent

Scott Stowell
Posted 2/1/12

Ely city workers weren’t walking a picket line as of presstime on Thursday, but the possibility of an imminent work stoppage hung in the air nonetheless.

The Ely Strike Committee and city …

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No contract yet; city workers strike imminent

Posted

Ely city workers weren’t walking a picket line as of presstime on Thursday, but the possibility of an imminent work stoppage hung in the air nonetheless.

The Ely Strike Committee and city council reconvened and recessed several times throughout the week to finalize the details of operating the city with a skeleton crew, should the 25 base unit members of AFSCME Local 1490 not show up for work.

During Monday’s council meeting, councilors approved several recommendations from the strike committee that determined non-essential services and reductions in city building hours in the event of an employee work stoppage. Moratoriums were also established on community center and recreation center rentals, cemetery burials, and city assistance for thawing water lines.

The strike committee reminds area residents that city operations will be anything but business as usual should a strike occur. A temporary staff of department heads, other city employees, and volunteers from the city council, commissions and boards would not be able to fill all 25 striking-employee positions. The public may not get immediate answers to phone calls and they might have to leave messages.

Utilities and

public works

City Operations Director Harold Langowski estimated the city could operate with a bare-bones crew of 10-12 volunteers. However, not all would be required at all times. Some would be available via a call-out list in emergency situations.

Though some sidewalks might not get plowed, he said his primary concern was procuring licensed operators to maintain essential utilities and public works services. According to Langowski, two journeyman electrical linemen, a heavy equipment operator and an operator with a certified driver’s license are absolutely key. In addition, licensed boiler operators must be available for city hall, the community center and water treatment plant, and standby help is essential for water main breaks, plowing and keeping the waste water treatment plant in operation. He said he has secured workers for those positions from a firm that provides fill-in help during strike situations.

“I’m confident that if there’s a strike, we’ll cover all our obligations,” Langowski said on Wednesday. “And with the temperature in the thirties, I only hope the weather pattern continues.”

As for water line thawing, he said there may be some circumstances when the city could thaw lines if necessary, but residents should plan for no thawing service whatsoever. If freeze-up problems occur, private contractors may need to be hired. He also recommended that, if needed, residents run water through faucets with a flow that is the thickness of a pencil.

Building hours

and rentals

During a strike, Ely Community Center hours would be the same as the library hours, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. In addition, the library could be completely closed from Feb. 14-23. If a strike draws out, the reduced daily hours could also change suddenly and without notice.

Community center renters who had scheduled short-term activities were sent a letter explaining possible changes. Renters would not have access to the building even if their event was scheduled during regular hours, or if a city employee is working at the center during the strike hours. Renters who paid in advance and are unable to use their scheduled times will be reimbursed. However, city officials recommend renters develop a back-up plan for their event.

In addition, some areas of the community center might be closed off to public use, including entire floors, even when the building is open.

At city hall, window hours for the clerk’s office would be scheduled from 9-11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Window hours for the utilities billing office would run from noon-2 p.m. at the Ely Joint Public Works Facility.

Though rentals for the Ely Recreation Center are on hold, the regular hours of operation would still be in effect, as Ely Community Resource manages the facility.

Negotiations

The union’s legal right to strike began on Jan. 31 and ends on Feb. 21, 2012. A new contract negotiation session was initially set for Wednesday, Feb. 1, but was cancelled due to the unavailability of the mediator. A new date was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 15. According to AFSCME staff representative Ida Rukavina, union members will meet on Monday, Feb. 6 to discuss when they might begin a strike. However, they could also meet prior to that time.

For further details on city operations, changes and resolutions in the event of a strike, see the city’s website at www.ely.mn.us.

Ely, workers strike

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