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Columbia city workers union strikes deal with city for better pay

A photo of the front of the City Building.
The union is planning on re-engaging with the city on a new set of provisions early next year.

Members of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 955, a labor union that represents 240 to 300 Columbia city workers, secured a collective bargaining agreement with the city Tuesday that will raise their wages and allow longer breaks, among other provisions.

A minimum 6% wage increase, drop on the requirement for new hires to test for marijuana, union orientations for new employees and a step scale for rewarding long-standing workers are some of the highlights of the deal.

“We have a long way to go to reward loyal, long-time employees, but this is a significant step in the right direction,” said Andrew Hutchinson, a representative of the union.

In June, several other unions representing city workers, such as the Water and Light Association and Columbia Police Lieutenant’s Union, reached a deal with the city to increase wages. The LiUNA Local 955 agreement dragged on into August as disagreements over the marijuana testing and pay increase provisions took mending. Union protests also occurred when the city cut three of its six bus routes due to a lack drivers. The city also cut back some of its recycling services.

On the final day of May, members of LiUNA Local 955 put a massive inflatable rat in front of the Daniel Boone City Building. It represented the disappointment of union members over the perceived lack of progress in its negotiations with the city for better working conditions.

Beyond a one-time raise, the agreement will also allow workers’ pay to grow over time. Hutchinson said members of the union are excited about the step scale provision.

A step scale promises gradual increases in pay for workers as they spend more time working for the city. Hutchinson said the step scale will combat wage compression, which keeps employees at a similar pay level despite their seniority in the city’s workforce. Some employees who have been with the city for 25 years, Hutchinson said, are still making the same wages as new hires.

Hutchinson cited bus driver pay as an example of the need for a pay scale. Before the agreement, drivers with more than five years of experience received roughly $21 an hour while new hires made $20.64.

“The city has always prioritized getting people in the door,” Hutchinson said. “They don’t realize they have to do things to keep them there too.”

All new city employees that are members of LiUNA Local 955 were subject to marijuana testing before the agreement. Union leadership said the end of the testing for employees without a commercial driver’s license will have a major impact on city workers, as there are some who haven’t been able to be hired due to the policy. These workers are temporary, Hutchinson said, and they “regularly do our work with no benefits and much less pay.”

The Missourian reached out to the city for comment.

The union is planning on re-engaging with the city on a new set of provisions early next year after gathering thoughts from its constituency. Hutchinson said the next round of negotiations will include wage increases because” city workers have been left behind for so long.”

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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