The City of Columbia plans to create a stronger pipeline to transition temporary solid waste workers into full-time employees with higher pay and better benefits.
City staff will bring a recommendation before the council for an ordinance to create a full-time solid waste packer position at its next regular meeting Tuesday, said Sydney Olsen, city public information officer.
A meeting Jan. 4 between De’Carlon Seewood, the incoming city manager, and Andrew Hutchinson, union representative for Laborers Local 955, sought to reconcile a fervent debate that has erupted over issues such as fair pay, benefits and obstacles to full-time employment.
The meeting came two weeks after revelations about low pay and lack of benefits evoked strong criticism from members of the council and public at the Dec. 20 council meeting. They were also perplexed by the lack of full-time positions that temporary workers could apply for, since the city currently has a shortage of solid waste workers.
“This would allow folks who are temp workers to be able to apply and become full-time employees with the city,” Hutchinson said. “It would allow them to get paid a higher wage, have access to health insurance, paid time off, retirement and all the other benefits that come with being a full-time city employee.”
Olsen said staff are recommending offering a new position that won’t require a commercial driver’s license. This means applicants won’t need to undergo the longer process of pursuing a CDL.
“That is a significant difference for these workers. The position is a lot more accessible,” Hutchinson said.
A staff report discussed at the Jan. 3 meeting said that workers who wanted full-time jobs with better pay could simply apply for full-time employment as a CDL trainee.
But Hutchinson pointed out that pursuing a CDL for this position is a barrier for some temporary employees. The position also isn’t technically full time, since it’s supposed to be a temporary opportunity before obtaining the license. The position offers health insurance but not paid time off, a specific concern raised Dec. 20.
And it’s not just solid waste workers who find themselves in this predicament, Hutchinson said, noting bus drivers, street department workers and landfill operators also require CDLs.
“When you make a CDL trainee program in any department not full time, not union-eligible and without the same benefits as other city workers, you see burnout and you see folks not finishing their CDL,” he said.
“Expanding full-time benefits to CDL trainees would not only impact the health of the solid waste workforce but also increase employee recruitment and retention across the city’s departments.”
Hutchinson said the meeting also opened opportunities for the city to evaluate the CDL trainee program and potentially give these workers full-time benefits.
“I think the city is seriously evaluating their dependence on temp labor, and we hope that they continue to offer more full-time employment with union benefits,” Hutchinson said. “No one should be in the position where they don’t have enough money to put food on the table, which is where most of those workers were,” he said.
It’s unclear how many new positions not requiring the commercial driver’s license would be available, but Hutchinson said the union is looking forward to seeing what the city ends up proposing.
“I think De’Carlon’s administration so far has shown that he’s willing to sit and talk with us, and we’re looking forward to making sure that workers at the City of Columbia get what they deserve for making our city run.”