A union representing more than 160 employees of the Becker County Human Services Department and the Becker County Courthouse workers has voted to strike in a dispute over pay and benefits.

Teamsters Local 320 members voted Wednesday, Feb. 19, to reject the final contract offers from the county, according to a Thursday news release from the union.

But that doesn’t mean the workers will immediately man the picket lines, Brian Aldes, Teamsters Local 320 secretary treasurer, told the Tribune Thursday evening. No date for a strike has been set yet, and “we’re hoping the employer comes back to the table and negotiates a fair deal,” he said.

The vote from both groups to reject the employer’s final offer was by 88% and 87% respectively, the union said. The two groups have separate collective bargaining labor contracts but voted down the final offer based on the same issues.

The central issues are fairness in wages and major health insurance disparities between part-time and full-time employees, he said.

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The county’s final offer to employees is 2.25% in the first year, and 2.5% in the second year of the proposed agreement.

In the news release, the union says that Becker County commissioners voted themselves salary increases higher than rank-and-file employees received in 2019 -- the last year of the expired labor contract. And that the commissioners have voted to increase their salaries over and above their employees again in 2020.

Becker County Courthouse (Tribune file photo)
Becker County Courthouse (Tribune file photo)

That’s not true, said Becker County Commissioner Don Skarie, who heads the negotiation team for the county board. The wage increase for commissioners in 2020 is 2%, “less than we offered employees,” he said Thursday.

At its Dec. 3 meeting, the board of commissioners approved a 2020 base salary of $25,217 for commission members, and an additional $1,230 for the board chair, according to meeting minutes. The 2019 salary, according to meeting minutes, was $24,602.06.

That amounts to a 2.5% salary increase for county elected officials in 2020.

During negotiations with the county, employees requested an increase to the employer’s contribution toward health insurance costs, which has not changed in 10 years, the union said in the news release.

The employees also want the county to provide health insurance for part-time employees who work 28 hours or less, and don’t currently qualify for employer-provided health insurance. Becker County has increasingly relied on part-time employees to serve in county government, the union says.

The two sides disagree on health insurance benefits for part-time workers, Skarie said. “It’s always been that way,” that only employees who work more than 28 hours a week are eligible for health insurance benefits, he said.

Stay tuned: Commissioners just learned of the vote Wednesday, and “we just don’t know their intentions yet,” Skarie said.