COLUMBIA — It was before 7 a.m. on Friday morning when union protesters set up a picket line at the gate of the new public high school construction site, off of St. Charles Road.
The protesters, workers from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 513, said they were indignant because Sunbelt, a non-union company, was subcontracted to drill wells needed in the construction project. The rest of the union workers decided to respect the picket and, although they did show up to work, left as a sign of solidarity with the protest.
Matt Enloe, one of the picketers and a heavy equipment operator, said he hoped the non-union workers on site would elect to join the union.
“We would like them to sign a contract, or at least a one-job agreement,” said Enloe, who emphasized that he was speaking only for himself and the other picketers.
“We are protesting. We have nothing to do with the negotiation,” he said. “It is the upper members (of the union) who will negotiate.”
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 513 supports the protest. Although the Missourian tried to corroborate their demands with the ones expressed by Enloe and the other picketers, calls late Friday afternoon were not immediately returned.
Columbia Public Schools reported that about 25 employees who were scheduled to work today decided not to do so.
“There were people who went to work, though,” said Michelle Baumstark, a spokeswoman for Columbia Public Schools. “Union workers did not work, but the ones from Sunbelt did."
Sunbelt, a Springfield-based company, was subcontracted by the Columbia Public School’s contractors, Questec.
“The district as a whole does not have authority to tell the contractor (Questec) to hire union or non-union employees,” said Baumstark, who said she is not aware of any direct contact between Columbia Public Schools and the workers. “I can’t speak for the current situation."
Baumstark said that the board will “monitor the situation” through their constructor manager.
The picketers, in the meantime, said they will wait for a solution to the conflict.
"We are protesting because Sunbelt (the non-union subcontracted company) was brought under the radar," Mike Gerlt, another of the picketers, said. “We are hoping that the company contacts Local 513."
“No matter if it’s days, weeks, or months, we will be here till this is solved,” Gerlt said. His fellow picketers nodded.