Jul 9, 2024 | By: Sammy Holladay

Brainerd Public Utilities Union Discusses Labor Dispute with City

Last week, we informed you about Brainerd Public Utilities workers sending the City of Brainerd an intent-to-strike letter and the city’s response. We recently spoke with a representative from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 31 to get the union’s perspective on the labor dispute.

Negotiations between the City of Brainerd and IBEW Local 31 are at a standstill. The biggest reason for the difficulty in reaching an agreement is wages. The city, according to a press release, proposed a pay increase for employees as follows:

  • 2.5% – January 1, 2024
  • 2.25% – July 1, 2024
  • 3.75% – January 1, 2025
  • 2.75% – July 1, 2025
  • 3% – January 1, 2026

But the union says the problem is that this does not apply to all workers’ hourly wages.

“If the city’s wage numbers were applied to everybody’s hourly wage, we would be done. We would have an agreement,” said Will Keyes, IBEW Local 31 Business Manager. “What they’re doing is freezing the majority of our folks’ wages for 2024, and they would get a lump sum payment on base wages payable in December of each contract year. So [workers] would go an entire 11-plus months without any increase, and then they would receive a one time lump sum payment in the amounts the city referenced.”

The proposal from the city is not sufficient in the union’s eyes. If the current proposal was accepted, union leadership believes it would lead to workers moving on.

“There’s already a number of folks that are exploring other employment,” stated Keyes. “If we accept the city’s proposal, which would freeze wages for some folks up to three years, it’s just going to lead to increased turnover, which leads to recruitment issues and recruitment costs for the employer. That also leads to training issues, training costs, bringing those employees up to speed. And you potentially have people with five, 10, 30 years of service walking out the door with all that experience with them.”

Union leadership wants a contract that best suits their workers, negotiations to find the best agreement will still take place, but the union is prepared and plans to go on strike.

“So our goal is to reach an agreement that our folks can live with. Ultimately, it’s up to them. It’s not up to myself or other Local 31 leadership,” Keyes added. “They vote on it, so as long as they’re okay with it, we’re okay with it. So that’s the goal. However, if we’re not able to get something that’s acceptable to them, we are absolutely ready to go on strike. And that is our plan.”

In a press release sent out today, IBEW Local 31 said Brainerd is not providing information related to the wage study on which the city’s wage proposal is based. Other points of contention include Brainerd reportedly ignoring the current collective bargaining agreement with the union, having the city not recognize Juneteenth as a contract holiday without having workers give up another holiday in return, and the union filing two unfair labor practice complaints, saying Brainerd violated state statutes on labor negotiations.

The first day the union can legally strike is Saturday, July 13. Lakeland News will also be reporting on a special joint meeting between the Brainerd City Council and the Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday’s newscast.

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