COLUMBIA — Local labor groups have weighed in on the April 3 municipal election at a time when some public employees are worried about how spending cuts might affect their benefits.
The Mid-Missouri Labor Club, a group of representatives of labor unions for both city and private workers, contributed $500 to the campaign of Michael Trapp in the Second Ward race and $250 to incumbent Barbara Hoppe in the Sixth Ward. The contributions come on the heels of a forum the group held last week to inform candidates of labor issues and to gauge their position on those issues.
Club President Russ Unger said its executive membership made the decision.
"We felt like they would work with the labor representatives to help them with their issues," Unger said.
Hoppe did not attend the Feb. 22 forum. Mid-Missouri Labor Club Secretary Regina Guevara said the group decided to support Hoppe based on her record of listening to the concerns of city workers.
Guevara specifically cited Hoppe's push for an amendment to the 2010 city budget — supported by Local 773, a union representing city workers in the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments — that would preserve holiday pay for public employees. After the motion to include holiday hours in payroll failed, Hoppe was the lone dissenting vote on that portion of the budget.
"She did that not because we asked her, but because it was the right thing to do," Guevara said.
Hoppe said she recalled supporting the amendment to make sure the city's lowest paid employees, such as trash collectors, would be compensated fairly in spite of budget cuts.
"I think it's undoubtable that it's hitting a good section of employees harder than others," Hoppe said at that meeting, which took place in Sept. 2009.
Hoppe said Thursday the labor group's support reflects her willingness to talk with all groups and consider their concerns.
"I think they just appreciate someone listening," Hoppe said.
Hoppe is running against Bill Tillotson, whom the Columbia Chamber of Commerce endorsed on Feb. 17.
Guevera said she sees Trapp as a genuine candidate who would support collective bargaining between the city and its workers following last week's forum.
"He said, 'I'm going to bring an open mind and I'm going to understand the issues,'" Guevara said.
Trapp, who is a counselor with Phoenix Programs, said his professional and personal background have prepared him to listen to the concerns of union workers. Trapp said he had been a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing public workers, and that his father was a union meat cutter and later a teamster.
"When you grow up in a union household, there's a level of cultural understanding you gain from that," Trapp said. He added that reforms such as the 40-hour work week were due to the efforts of organized labor.
Trapp said he is grateful for the contribution from local labor groups and that their support reflects the diversity of interests behind his campaign. Last week, Trapp reported earnings to the Missouri Ethics Commission of $2,250, with many of his contributions coming from college professors and other individual donors.
Bill Pauls and Mike Atkinson also are seeking the Second Ward council seat. Guevara said she was concerned by Pauls' position on government-funded pension plans. At the forum, Pauls, a retired soil scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he thought his own state-funded pension plan was "too good."
"My retirement pension's too good for the government to afford to pay me for the rest of my life," Pauls said at the forum.
Guevara said that raised a "red flag" for her as the city ponders what to do about a mounting gap in its own pension fund.
"If he doesn't think that he deserves a pension, how is he going to vote for a pension for the city workers?" Guevara said.
Unger said the group tried to pick candidates who would support working families in town, in spite of the recent economic hard times.
"Everyone understands that there's budget constraints," Unger said. "But there are issues that are affecting city workers and employees and we felt like (Hoppe and Trapp) would help solve some of those."
The deadline to register to vote for the April 3 election is Wednesday.