About 160 Becker County employees represented by the Teamsters Union voted overwhelmingly Tuesday, March 17, to ratify an agreement with the county and avoid a strike.

The workers felt they needed to stay on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the county sweetened the pot by raising its wage offer by a quarter percent.

“We took into consideration the effect a strike would have on our community and we will remain working,” said Vickie Rudolph, a Becker County financial worker. “Though many issues remain unresolved with our employer, we made the decision to put aside our differences and work together.”

The Teamsters Union in Becker County “did the noble thing today,” Brian Aldes, Teamsters Local 320 secretary treasurer and chief spokesperson, said in a news release. “Minnesota and Becker County are facing a severe crisis with coronavirus and services for its most vulnerable citizens must not be disrupted.”

Becker County Commissioner Barry Nelson said he was glad the two sides were able to come to terms. “I’m happy that an agreement was reached, and would like to thank all our employees for their continued hard work,” he said in an interview. “I know we don’t always see eye to eye on everything, but we do have really great employees at the county, and I want to thank them for everything they do.”

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Union members voted to accept the county’s last offer of a 2 1/2% general pay hike this year and a 2 3/4% hike next year, Nelson said. The offer was made after the county board held a short closed negotiating session Tuesday morning,March 17.

Teamsters Local 230 represents employees of the Becker County Human Services Department and the Becker County Courthouse, and they probably would have voted to strike “if it weren’t for the coronavirus situation and our members’ deep concern for the public they serve,” Local 320 Business Agent Roger Meunier said in an interview.

Usually, he said, “the only way Becker County negotiates is to take something away from our members to give them a little more in salary,” he said. But this time was different.

The last offer by the county provided wage increases and no benefit reductions, and was approved by union membership in a vote that was held throughout the day at the courthouse. The new offer did not address every item that had caused the earlier strike threat, but the coronavirus demanded that communities must stand together against the crisis, Aldes said.

“We were proud to stand up for our rights and jobs, but now is the time to protect our community,” said Erica Jepson, who handles foster care licensing for the county.

The Becker County Board must ratify the agreement before it can be implemented. The two-year contract is retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year.

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