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Local union, Columbia water distribution workers rally outside City Hall; workers claim city violated rights

Columbia, Mo (KMIZ)

On Tuesday Columbia Water Distribution workers rallied outside of City Hall after they claimed the city violated their rights under the Missouri Constitution. 

The rally was organized by LiUNA Local 955. According to a release the union is accusing the city of “refusing to bargain in good faith.” During the rally city workers and Union representatives held up picket signs which read “Essential Workers Deserve Essential Pay”. They also used a bullhorn for organized chants calling out Columbia City leaders which included targeting  City Manager De’Carlon Seewood. 

Speakers included LiUNA Local 955 representative Andrew Hutchinson, city employees, Missouri 47th District State Rep. Adrian Plank, and Missouri Senate District 19 candidate Stephen Webber. 

Water distribution wanted to join Local 995 for better wages and working conditions. 

“We have to dig in triple-degree heat with shovels and sometimes our bare hands because there are too many live utilities in the way to use an excavator, we have searched for meter pits under a foot of snow to check for freeze-ups,” Connor Fox, a water distribution operator who has worked for the city for two years, said as he addressed the crowd at the rally. “We have delivered case after case of bottled water to nursing homes and daycare centers so they could not be without water while we were fixing a main break. We can work up to 16-hour shifts without relief oftentimes not seeing our own family for days on end. We are always on call ready to respond at any time in any weather.” 

Over the summer, water distribution workers requested that the city recognize their attempt to join Local 955. That request came on July 20th. The City didn’t hold a meeting about it until September 11th, which frustrated water workers who accused the city of dragging their feet, according to Hutchinson. 

“We are just asking to be treated with respect. We want the city to negotiate in good faith. They are circumventing the entire bargaining process, instead of responding to our most recent proposal they are going straight to the council” Fox said. “City Council needs to step up and fix this.” 

According to the release from Local 955, the two parties traded proposals until September 15th when the city decided to ignore negotiations and just implement its own budget. 

“It’s really disappointing the city would walk away and ignore even having a conversation with these folks,” Hutchinson said. “We aren’t out here because we think it's our way or the highway we are out here because the city walked away.” 

By doing so Local 955 believes that the city broke their constitutional rights to collective bargaining and organizing a union. 

“The Missouri Constitution gives all workers the right to collective bargaining and to have a union of their choice,” Hutchinson said. “By stopping the bargaining process they are breaking these employee's rights.” 

The city’s Water & Light employees are currently represented by the Water and Light Association. They are not a union. 

In 2016 employees of the City Utitlies Department filed a position with the State Board of Mediation, which covers public sector employees who seek union representation. The position requested they be recognized as a union by the City of Columbia. 

The Board of Mediation approved and encouraged a discussion between the City, petitioners and representatives of LiUNA Local 773, which is currently known as Local 955. As a result of the discussions, the City Manager recommended to the City Council that the Water & Light Association be recognized as a bargaining unit of employees, according to Section 19-26(9) of the City Code of Ordinances. The Water & Light Association is not represented by the Board of Mediation and water and distribution workers have had enough. 

“Me and my two co-workers were asked by our own supervisors to go to a Water & Light Association meeting and instead of being able to negotiate or bargain we were told what we were getting and that was that,” Fox said as he addressed the rally. 

Hutchinson told ABC 17 News that the City had ignored all their request to respond until the day of the rally.

The City said in a statement to ABC 17 News that there is a resolution on the October 16th City Council agenda to voluntarily recognize employees in the water distribution as an additional work unit of the LiUNA Local 955 bargaining unit. If voluntary recognition is approved, staff will work with LiUNA 955 to draft an amendment to the local bargaining agreement. 

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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