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Court decision on Crow Wing County civil suit may be Tuesday

A decision on a civil lawsuit filed against Crow Wing County by union employees is expected Tuesday, May 15, union legal representatives reported.

The union is represented by Duluth attorneys Timothy Andrew and Jane Poole.

In a written statement submitted by Poole, the unions involved reported the lawsuit is not whether the county’s proposal to tie pay to performance is a good idea.

“The county’s idea, like all bargaining proposals, should be negotiated,” the unions stated. “The unions’ lawsuit simply asks the court to find that the county must first negotiate the elimination of the current pay structure and not act on its own.”

The lawsuit was brought by employees from some, but not all, the county unions. The unions said the county committed an unfair labor practice related to step pay increases by unilaterally stopping the increases in violation of the expired collective bargaining agreements.

In the lawsuit, the unions reported the collective bargaining agreements state if a new agreement is not reached before the old one expires, all benefits shall remain in effect until a new agreement is concluded so wage scales based on the employees job and number of years in service would continue, such as the step advances each year. The concept has new employees starting at a lower pay rate, which automatically increases, or goes up a series of steps, as the years progress until the top pay is reached.

The county contends the step increases can be stopped as they are in negotiations regarding that pay issue. The unions say after a contract expires the status quo remains in effect while parties negotiate a new labor contract.

The unions’ legal representation says the law is clear that the collective bargaining agreements are in effect after the agreement expires and that includes the step pay increases. The unions’ note an attempt to let public employers freeze wage step increases after a contract expires was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Recently Tim Houle, Crow Wing County administrator, said the county wants to work things out with the employees at the bargaining table. The unions’ reported they agree with Houle. But they contend the lawsuit was necessary to prevent the county from having the upper hand in negotiations as employees would have to negotiate for what they were already entitled to under the law.

Poole said the county has failed to pay step increases in the past while negotiating a new contract with the union.

The union plaintiffs are: the Teamsters Local Union No. 346, representing sheriff’s department corrections and dispatch supervisors; Teamsters Local No. 320, social service center employees; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, courthouse employees; Minnesota Nurses Association, Crow Wing County Health Department employees; Law Enforcement Labor Services Inc., sheriff’s department non-supervisory employees.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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