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.