Columbia laborers propose alternate budget cuts

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:13 p.m. CST, Monday, November 16, 2009

COLUMBIA — Columbia City Council chambers were filled to standing room only Tuesday night, in part because three labor groups showed up to oppose changes in overtime and sick leave for city employees. The groups suggested alternate cuts to the personnel cost reductions in the city manager's 2010 budget at the council meeting.

Scores of Columbia Water and Light Department employees, Columbia Professional Firefighters members and Laborers' International Union of North America Local 773 filled the back rows of the city council chambers to show support, and silently stood as their representatives outlined to the council their philosophy on personnel-related budget cuts.

City Manager Bill Watkins' 2010 budget would pay overtime based on hours worked as opposed to hours in pay status, meaning employees would only be paid overtime if they worked more than the normal hours in a week, rather than working extra hours in one day.

Fred Eaton, a spokesman for Columbia Water and Light Department employees, said the overtime change would be unfair because these hours are based on variables such as weather and equipment malfunction, so employees rarely work overtime by choice.

"When you have no power in the middle of the night and it is 10 below zero, someone has to fix it," he said.

Watkins' proposed budget would also reduce the amount of unused sick leave employees could get paid for, from 75 percent to 50 percent.

Representatives from the labor groups said these changes would place an unfair burden on city employees in lower pay grades.

"We are all concerned with those in the workforce at the lowest end of the pay scale, but the city's proposal takes overtime dollars away from the lower paid, hourly employees," said Brad Frazier, president of the Columbia Professional Firefighters.

Frazier, along with the other labor representatives, acknowledged the need to reduce personnel costs by $1 million butproposed a 1.2 percent pay cut to all city employees.

"The proposal we endorse does not discriminate," Frazier said. "It distributes cost reductions evenly among all city employees with an average impact equivalent to one hour of salary per paycheck, per employee. With our proposal, they would have only lost 1.2 percent, which is the equivalent of a can of soda a day" for employees that earn about $10 per hour.

According to a document distributed by Laborers' Local 773, the pay cut would lead to $800,000 in savings for the city. This, paired with some of Watkins' proposed reductions, would lead to $1,006,900 in total savings.

During a pre-council meeting, Frazier stressed that Watkins' open door policy has led to constructive discussions on the issue, and he realizes that tough decisions need to be made.

Council members will vote on the budget as early as the next meeting in two weeks.

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Charles Dudley Jr September 9, 2009 | 4:21 a.m.

Cutting or changing our Firefighters and Utility worker's overtime and how it is acquired?

Bad choice IMHO.

Let's hope our next Mayor Elect gets wise and gets rid of Bill Watkins.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Scantlan September 9, 2009 | 8:30 a.m.

Kudos to the city for not holding the meetings in secret and allowing their employees to have a say. This is opposite of what is happening at the University where meetings are being held in secret to outsource the hospital's ITS department.

(Report Comment)
Jason Entermyer September 9, 2009 | 8:57 a.m.

Chuck, so this is the same City Manager that you thanked earlier for keeping Paquin funded, yet now you want him fired? Flip-flop.

This is just the city following the federal rules that so far has only benefited a few employees. The University of Missouri has already adopted this policy.

Perhaps you'd prefer more cuts to parks and rec so that the overtime can be paid to those that aren't even working over hours?

How can you support the fact that someone can call in sick one day, work 10 hours the next day and still get 2 hours of overtime? Perhaps you don't understand the rules and are just blindly following the union's comments.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 9, 2009 | 9:46 a.m.

Jason Entermyer it is called a love and hate relationship with our City Government and we are all entitled to our views.

>>> Perhaps you don't understand the rules and are just blindly following the union's comments. <<<

Perhaps you do not understand what a tough job our city workers actually have in keeping this city running 24/7/365. :)

(Report Comment)
Jason Entermyer September 9, 2009 | 2:26 p.m.

What I thought was horrible was how rude the labor groups were by walking out while someone was trying to speak. That was the last speaker of the night and all they had to do was give her a chance to finish. Instead, the minute she started speaking in favor of the city manager's plan, the union groups all got up and left, completely disrupting the meeting. I don't care how you feel about other people's opinions, you should at least respect their chance to speak. I think they ruined any chance of respect from the council with their actions. Just watch it online and see what you think.

(Report Comment)
Eric Caszatt September 9, 2009 | 2:52 p.m.

Ms. Carden,

I would like to apologize for interrupting your remarks to the City Council at last nights meeting. Neither I nor any of Columbia Professional Fire Fighters, the Water and Light Association or Local 773 knew you were a City employee. I'm also concerned with the impression we may have left considering you were speaking in favor of the City's proposal.

For many of us, myself included, this was one of our first City Council meetings. Our intent was to stay until the issue we were speaking to was over. There were multiple topics being addressed by speakers and we honestly felt all comments pertinent to the personnel cost reductions had been made. There was no graceful way for that many people to leave and in hindsight I would have asked our people to leave one row at a time and not interrupt the meeting.

I'm embarrassed by the impression we left and hope you'll accept my apologies. The labor groups represented last night have great respect for both points of view on this very important issue.

Please feel free to call or e-mail me if you have any questions or wish to talk.


Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Local 1055

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