Protestors wore LiUNA! stickers during the protest on Saturday at MU’s campus in Columbia. Laborer’s Local 955 is a union covering areas of mid-Missouri and a subgroup of Laborers’ International Union of North America.
Faculty member Seth Howes speaks in front of protestors on Saturday at MU’s campus in Columbia. Howes is an associate professor of German and will not be affected by the policy change. He said he came to the protest “because of my recognition that staff are the absolute cornerstone of everything we do at MU.”
Dozens of people rallied Saturday at Speaker’s Circle and marched to the MU Columns, chanting in protest against proposed changes to the University of Missouri System’s staff paid leave program.
“I came here for the benefits,” said Buddy Cook, who is in his first year working as a painter for the university. He said he was making more at his previous job, but “I gave that up to come here, to have benefits, to have something to leave to (my kids).”
Laborers Local 955, a union of public employees and construction laborers, hosted the protest Saturday to express opposition to the proposed policy changes that they argue would cut benefits, if approved.
The UM System Board of Curators could vote on the proposed benefit changes as soon as September.
UM staff, union members and others in solidarity held signs reading “Hands off our benefits,” “Good benefits boost morale” and “Say no to PTO.”
“You cannot retain people by taking things away,” Kevin Perkins, MU Campus Dining Services employee, said in a speech to the crowd.
The group marched to the columns, shouting chants such as “Time to put the workers first.”
“This is really visceral,” Perkins said. “I feel this emotionally.”
Under the changes to the policy proposed to the UM Board of Curators at its June meeting, time off for vacations, sickness and personal reasons would be part of a single bank of paid time off — or PTO — days.
This would give hourly employees 18 PTO days and salaried employees 23 PTO days at hire. Employees would not have to designate a reason for using the days off, according to board documents.
The nine holiday and four winter break days would remain the same, which has been the policy since 2016, when four winter break days were added. This would give hourly staff a total of 31 paid days away from work each year upon hire.
Under the current system, paid time off is divided by category for vacation, sickness, personal and holidays. Employees earn a specific number of hours for each category, according to the UM System’s website.
Currently, new hourly employees are offered 12 vacation days, 12 sick days, four personal days, nine holidays and four days of winter break. This gives hourly staff a total of 41 paid days away from work at hire.
The June proposal would also include short-term disability, caregiver and parental leave. Short-term disability would give staff 60% salary for a maximum of 21 weeks. Staff would have a maximum of four paid weeks off for both caregiver and parental leave, in addition to the 31 paid days away from work.
The current system does not offer paid short-term disability, caregiver or parental leave. The university follows the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives employees job-protected, unpaid leave for qualifying family or medical reasons.
Another change in the proposed program would increase the amount in an employee’s PTO bank in their third and 10th years of employment, compared to the current system, which increases it in an employee’s fifth and 15th years.
“They were clear in their June 2022 meeting that this is supposed to save money. If it’s saving money, it’s cutting something,” said Andrew Hutchinson, the union’s public employees field representative.
The proposed program is intended to offer prospective hires a competitive benefits package and retain current employees by offering options in “key life stages,” according to board documents. The PTO bank system would be more inclusive of employees’ diverse needs, promote trust and empower employees to take time off without having to disclose the reason.
If implemented, this policy would affect 13,000 employees in the UM System. The proposal described at the June meeting is tentatively set for the board agenda in its Sept. 7 meeting, and curators are seeking feedback on the proposal before the meeting.
The UM System will host a series of virtual sessions this month for those who want more information on the proposed changes. The first session is scheduled for Friday, and other sessions will be Aug. 23, 25 and 29.