Labor groups present proposals to City Council about wages, bargaining

Monday, September 12, 2011 | 11:21 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Three labor groups that represent city employees presented proposals for higher wages and bargaining agreements to the City Council on Monday night.

Groups representing workers for the Water and Light, Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments and Columbia police officers have been negotiating with city officials since May on issues including wages and work contacts. 

The City Council is not allowed to negotiate with employee groups, but is instead informed of negotiations by City Manager Mike Matthes. However, the council will ultimately decide whether their requests are approved.

Columbia police officers

Ashley Cuttle, executive director of the Columbia Police Officers Association, presented her union’s requests to the City Council last.

The association presented only one request, the highest priority from an initial list of five proposals.

That priority is to reduce "salary compression" in the department. This occurs when new hires are given a starting salary higher than predecessors', whose pay is often at a stand-still because of tight budgets.

For the Columbia Police Department, this has resulted in situations in which superiors are paid less than the workers they manage.

In previous fiscal years, the department relieved this compression for the deputy chief, captains and lieutenants. “This year, it’s the sergeants’ turn,” Cuttle said.

By law, the Columbia Police Department had to ask City Council for permission. As a compromise, the police chief is only asking to do it for the most severely affected police sergeants.

About $45,000 worth of raises would be given to these sergeants using in-house funds budgeted by the police chief.

If the council gave the police chief permission to fix the salary compression for some sergeants, it would signify an act of good faith on the part of the city to continue what was started in previous fiscal years, Cuttle said.

It would also be a morale boost for the department.

“The Columbia Police Department already has a problem with recruitment and retention,” Cuttle remarked.

Water and Light employees

Rick Weirich spoke for Local 2 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents employees of the city’s Water and Light Department. Weirich said the union hopes for progress on three issues:

• The union said the city has been unwilling to enter into a binding collective bargaining agreement with the union. Union members "want the security of an agreement, with predictable terms and conditions,” Weirich said.

• Workers are also unsatisfied with the 25 cent per hour wage increase proposed by the city, Weirich said. The union asked for wage increases of 2 percent for top-tier employees and 4 percent for other employees.

• The union contends that employees who benefit from the collective bargaining of the union should pay dues or the equivalent of dues to the union.

Other city departments

Parks and Recreation employees, along with those who work for the Public Works Department and the Municipal Power Plant, were represented by Local 773 of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

Paul Prendergast, a lawyer for Local 773, lobbied the city for a one-year work ordinance. A work ordinance is a type of city ordinance dealing with the working terms and conditions of a certain group, said Margrace Buckler, director of human resources for Columbia.

“Money has nothing to do with it,” Prendergast said. “What we’re asking is that the city agree that they are bound by the terms of the agreement.”

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt expressed the depth of the requests made by the three labor unions.

“I’ve heard quite a few complaints that are highly technical,” he said.

Matthes told council members there is no deadline for the requests presented at the work session. However, the budget for fiscal year 2012 will be voted on by the City Council in October. 

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. 

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