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Public workers balk at contract offers from St. Paul, Minneapolis, Met Council

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Public workers balk at contract offers from St. Paul, Minneapolis, Met Council

The construction mechanics and heavy equipment operators affiliated with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 openly acknowledge that when it comes to contract negotiations with large public employers, things are not going well.

Plant operators, sewer workers, plow drivers and other on-the-ground laborers employed by St. Paul, Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council tend to agree.

Following a difficult year of talks and three failed mediation sessions, dozens of Local 49 members joined two other labor groups on Tuesday — Teamsters 120 and Laborers Local 363 — in rejecting a two-year contract offer from the city of St. Paul. Instead, they authorized a possible strike of some 280 St. Paul Public Works, St. Paul Parks and Recreation, Water Services and Sewer workers.

An actual strike does not appear imminent, but the hard feelings during Tuesday’s vote were palpable.

Asked if the city’s latest contract offer had been rejected, a worker walking to his car outside the union hall in St. Anthony laughed and said wryly, “With a zero-percent increase? What do you think?”

“People are frustrated,” said Liz Xiong, a spokesperson for the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Our members are frustrated because we had our folks go out every day while civil unrest and the pandemic are happening, and the offers are not meeting the moment.”

MET COUNCIL, MAC, MINNEAPOLIS WORKERS ALSO DEALING WITH CONTRACT ISSUES

That sentiment reaches beyond St. Paul. On Thursday evening, 150 wastewater treatment plant operators employed by the Met Council and affiliated with Local 49 were scheduled to vote on another possible strike authorization. In late September, more than 100 members of Local 49 rejected the latest contract offer from the city of Minneapolis, as did Local 363 on Sept. 21. At the Metropolitan Airports Commission, more than 20 members of Local 49 who take care of equipment and airport runway field maintenance have been working under an expired agreement for months.

The sticking point? Wages. At a time of municipal belt-tightening, public employers are offering contracts that labor advocates say don’t keep pace with inflation and cost-of-living increases, or the potential dangers associated with frontline work during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, individual city council members in St. Paul have promised to look for ways to bring down St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 6.9 percent levy increase, and public organizations like Metro Transit have been equally hard-pressed to balance the budget books.

Union organizers have tried to avoid discussing contract details in public. But in St. Paul, individual members of the three-union Tri-Council said the latest offer from the city called for no wage increase in the first year, and a 1.5 percent increase in the second year.

City officials said Friday they are offering a one-time lump sum payment in the first year, equivalent to a 2.5 percent general increase, funded by American Rescue Plan dollars. The last contract called for wage increases of 2.5 percent, 2.75 percent and 2.75 percent during the 2018-2020 contract period.

As of August, the Consumer Price Index — a measure of the market value of a basket of goods and services purchased by urban consumers — had for the year risen 5.3 percent.

WAGE RATES

The current advertised wage rate for St. Paul sewer, water utility or bridge maintenance workers is roughly $26 per hour. A gardener would start at $24 and earn about $25.50 after six months. A landscape worker or assistant gardener would start at $18 and earn about $19 after six months. An entry-level parks worker would earn about $15 to $16.50 hourly, while a Parks Worker II with added responsibilities would earn $16.50 to $20. A Parks Worker III would earn $25.50 to $26. A plow driver or driver-operator for the water utility starts around $26. Heavy equipment operators start at $30.

“These workers stayed on the job and kept things open during a global pandemic,” said Jason George, a business manager for Local 49, in a written statement. “They didn’t complain. They just did their jobs. There are a lot of politicians right now, particularly so-called progressive politicians, that use their words to express support for unions, and for frontline workers specifically. … They can start by making sure their budgets reflect their stated values. They can offer their workers a fair and just pay increase for the work they do.”

St. Paul officials said they’ve offered similar contracts to eight bargaining units to date, and all accepted their terms.

“Our city workers demonstrate their dedication to our residents and businesses every day,” said St. Paul communications director Peter Leggett, in an email. “We are grateful for their service and hopeful that our ongoing discussions will lead to a positive resolution.”

COVID BACKDROP

COVID-19 has provided an uneasy backdrop to negotiations, and driven home quality-of-life differences between various segments of the labor market. While many white-collar and pink-collar workers logged in remotely over the past 18 months, heavy equipment operators and other laborers often didn’t have the option to work from home.

Some have been called upon to tear down homeless encampments with bulldozers.

“That’s our frontline staff that go in and do that work,” said Tony Kelly, business manager with Local 363, or LIUNA, the Laborers International Union of North America, which represents most of the manual laborers in St. Paul Parks and Recreation and Public Works.

At the same time, St. Paul’s labor unions have appeared resistant to accepting a vaccination mandate that the city council called for on Aug. 18. Council members have expressed frustration at the delay.

“Because the city is a first-touch level of government, we need to make sure our employees are vaccinated,” said city council President Amy Brendmoen, addressing the council on Wednesday.

As the St. Paul vote totals were being counted Tuesday evening, some questioned why large municipalities hadn’t relied on federal financial relief, such as American Rescue Plan dollars, to boost wages.

“The city just got bailed out, as everybody read,” said Troy Gustafson, a business agent with Teamsters Local 120, which represents plow drivers.

Brendmoen said the council will host a public discussion about the city budget and its $166 million in American Rescue Plan funds at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Como Lakeside Pavilion, 1360 Lexington Parkway.

“Obviously, the ARP dollars are one-time dollars,” said Brendmoen. “The council, and I’m sure the administration, is going to be reluctant to use one-time dollars for ongoing salary expenses, but there may be room for using ARP dollars for one-time payment recognition during these really unusual and unprecedented times.”

St. Paul workers in particular have said their wages haven’t kept pace over the years with other cities across the metro, especially Minneapolis, even within the same union. Given tight staffing, they allege some lower-titled positions are handling supervisory-level work without the correct compensation and work title.

“When I started, we were the top-paid municipality,” said a St. Paul street maintenance worker who has been on the job for nearly 30 years. “We should be. We’re the capital city. (Now), we’re one of the lowest paid in the metro area.”

A contract rejection does not necessarily signal the beginning of a strike, though in most cases it opens the door to one without a further vote of the union. If any of the unions file an intent to strike with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services, state law requires a 10-day cooling off period.

BUS DRIVERS, OTHER UNIONS SETTLE

At the state Capitol, discussions over how to spend $250 million in potential hazard pay for essential workers have mostly stalled, with Republicans calling for $1,200 bonuses for first responders, corrections workers and health care workers in hospitals and long-term care settings. Democrats have called for a much larger list of recipients, including janitors and retail workers, though that could whittle checks down to as little as $375.

Despite the significant number of holdouts, other unions have settled contracts with large public employers.

The Met Council, which began negotiating a new contract with its wastewater plant operators in April, will enter its second mediation session with Local 49 on Oct. 21. “We are committed to our employees and have reached voluntary settlements with all other groups who represent employees in our Environmental Services division,” said Met Council spokesman John Schadl, in a written statement.

In August, nearly a year after authorizing a possible strike, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 approved a three-year contract for some 2,300 Metro Transit bus and light-rail drivers, mechanics, clerks and cleaners. The agreement, which follows a year of negotiations, provides a 6.5 percent wage increase over the life of the contract, a $1,000 bonus and improvements to sick leave.

Getting there hasn’t been easy. Like many industries, public transit has been hit by a severe worker shortage, compounded by plummeting ridership during the pandemic.

As of early August, ridership remained at 40 percent to 45 percent of pre-pandemic levels, prompting Metro Transit to reduce fares in September and October to $1.

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Infotainment retuned for ’22 Infiniti QX80 resurgence

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Infotainment retuned for ’22 Infiniti QX80 resurgence

A refined infotainment system and center stack are standard on the 2022 Infiniti QX80 and should serve as major assists toward a more well-rounded competitiveness in the full-size luxury SUV field for the Japanese product.

Power and plushness are a given for the QX80 and have been for some years. Up-front interior tech, though, with dual screens lagging in wireless compatibility fared poorly in comparative assessments.

For 2022, a new 12.3-inch touchscreen offers navigation, lane guidance, Infiniti InTouch Services, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto links, Intelligent Cruise Control and Bose premium sound system with 17 speakers.

The upgraded QX80 is available in three trim levels – Luxe, Premium Select and Sensory – as it goes against Lexus LX, Mercedes GLS and G-Class, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Range Rover, BMW X7 and Audi Q7.

Interestingly, while I was driving the QX80 last week came an announcement from Yokohama, Japan, of the promotion by Infiniti of Wendy Orthman to general manager of global integrated brand, marketing and communications, a newly created position merging the responsibilities of chief marketing and chief communications officer. She was global head of communications for the brand.

Orthman previously served positions with Nissan and, earlier, as Midwest PR manager with Chrysler. While with Chrysler, Denver was a frequent stop for her, including bringing famed Dodge designer Ralph Gilles here in 2008 to show off a redesigned Ram with storage in its box’s side panels.

The new version of the QX80 continues to draw notice for its size – it’s big, 6 ½ feet tall and square-bodied with 5,815-pound curb weight, riding on Bridgestone Dueler P275/50R22 tires.

Performance comes smoothly from a 400-horsepower, 413 lb.-ft. torque, 5.6-liter V-8 engine with 7-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. A dial in the center console engages switching from Auto to 4Hi and 4Lo, with a separate button for snow mode, which lessens torque on takeoff. The shifter can be moved into manual mode and tapped for upshifts or downshifts.

The Infiniti is impressive in its maneuverability, belying its oversize. Its EPA fuel estimate continues relatively low, 13 to 19 miles per gallon. I averaged 16.4 mpg.

Inside, the front seating, with quilted inserts, is finished in saddle brown. The second-row buckets, with an abundance of legroom, will flip-fold forward for opening a path to the 3rd row, where footspace is very tight. By folding the far-back seats into the floor, cargo space grows from 16.6 cubic feet to a roomy 49.6. Twin 8-inch screens highlight a rear-seat entertainment system.

For $87,985, the Infiniti’s high-end Sensory trim level includes power moonroof, power-folding and heated outside mirrors, power rear liftgate, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, power reclining third-row seats and safety advancements forward emergency braking, blind-spot intervention, lane-departure prevention and around-view monitor with moving-object detection.

The Infiniti brand was introduced in the United States in 1989 as Nissan’s luxury offering to compete with Toyota and Honda premium units Lexus and Acura, respectively. The QX80 is built in Kyushu, Japan.

Contact Bud Wells at
[email protected]

The news and editorial staffs of The Denver Post had no role in this post’s preparation.

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Homicide investigation underway after man stabbed to death in Westminster home Monday

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100-year-old Longmont man assaulted along Main Street has died

Jefferson County authorities are investigating a homicide after a man was found stabbed to death early Monday inside a Westminster home.

Sheriff’s deputies responded at 4 a.m. to the 10400 block of Ammons Street to reports of a break-in, and upon arrival found the unidentified man dead, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

A witness who lives at the house told police that “the male had forced entry into the home and was stabbed by another female resident during a physical altercation between the male and the witness,” authorities said in the release.

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Lionel Messi and Alexia Putellas win Ballon d’Or awards

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Lionel Messi and Alexia Putellas win Ballon d’Or awards

PARIS — Lionel Messi won the men’s Ballon d’Or for a record-extending seventh time on Monday, ending the year in style after a brilliant final season with Barcelona and earning his first major international trophy with Argentina.

Alexia Putellas became the third winner of the women’s award for an outstanding season with Barcelona and Spain.

The 34-year-old Messi led Argentina to the Copa America title in July after losing in four major international finals.

“I’m very happy to be here, happy to keep fighting for new trophies,” he said through a translator. “I don’t know how many years I have left, but I hope many more. I’d like to thank all my (former) teammates at Barcelona and Argentina.”

Messi finished with 613 points to top prolific Bayern Munich and Poland striker Robert Lewandowski on 580.

“I would like to say to Robert that it’s an honor to be your rival, and everyone would say you deserved to win it last year,” Messi said.

Awarded by France Football magazine, the Ballon d’Or has been given out to men every year since 1956 when Stanley Matthews won.

Both 2020 awards were canceled because the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the season.

The 33-year-old Lewandowski set a new single-season scoring record for the Bundesliga with 41 goals — one more than late Germany great Gerd Müller — when he scored in the last minute of the last game.

Lewandowski netted in 19 consecutive games in all competitions for Bayern from February to September and he just missed out on equaling the record of scoring in 16 Bundesliga games in a row. Overall, he already has 25 goals in 20 games for Bayern this season.

His 11 goals in 12 games for Poland this year took his international tally to 74 in 128 games, just six less than Messi.

Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho was third with 460 points after helping the London club win the Champions League and his nation win the European Championship. Real Madrid and France forward Karim Benzema was fourth on 239.

Putellas helped Barca win the treble and scored 26 goals in 42 games overall. The midfielder netted in the Champions League final against Chelsea, and in August she was named UEFA women’s player of the year.

“I’m very emotional, it’s a very special moment,” she said at the Paris ceremony through a translator. “I would like to start by thanking all my teammates, especially my current (Barcelona) teammates. For me it’s a collective success.”

The only previous women’s award winners are Norway striker Ada Hegerberg in 2018, and U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe in 2019.

Putellas tallied 186 points to finish far ahead of club and country teammate Jenni Hermoso on 84.

Hermoso netted 31 goals to top the Spanish first division scoring charts for a third straight season. Hermoso was joint-top scorer in the Champions League with Chelsea’s Fran Kirby on six goals.

Chelsea and Australia striker Sam Kerr placed third in the voting after 21 goals in the English Women’s Super League and six for Australia at the Tokyo Games. Kerr has maintained her excellent form with 13 goals in 12 games this season.

Messi, meanwhile, counts two more Ballon d’Or awards than longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who was sixth in the voting.

Messi’s staggering tally of 672 goals for Barcelona included an extraordinary 50-goal league season in 2012; 96 league goals across 2012 and 2013; eight Spanish league and six Champions League scoring titles.

In his final season with the Spanish giant he netted 38 overall, winning his last trophy with a superb performance in the Copa del Rey final. At the Copa America, Messi was inspirational, finishing joint-top scorer with four goals and leading with five assists.

Then he stunned the soccer world by joining Paris Saint-Germain.

He has made a modest start with four goals in nine games. But he remains a constant threat, even when he’s not in top form, as he showed on Sunday in a 3-1 win at Saint-Etienne where he set up all three goals.

In other awards, the Kopa Trophy for the best under 21 player went to 19-year-old Spain and Barcelona midfielder Pedri. He caught the eye at Euro 2020 and reached the Olympic final.

The Lev Yashin for best goalkeeper was won by Gianluigi Donnarumma, who helped Italy win the Euros.

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