COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
On Monday the Columbia City Council unanimously approved to recognize positions in the Water Distribution Division of the Utilities Department as a part of the LiUNA Local 955 bargaining unit.
This comes after the water distribution workers rallied outside City Hall last week, claiming that the city violated their rights under the Missouri Constitution.
In a statement from the City sent to ABC 17 News on Oct. 11, the City said there is a resolution on the 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. Now that the resolution has been approved the City will head to the negotiating table.
While the resolution accomplishes voluntary recognition, LiUNA Local 955 representative Andrew Hutchinson said there are other issues that the city needs to adjust.
“The issue is that it [the resolution] moves them in under the local 955 contract without conferring them any of the economic benefits that they would get from being recognized under the contract,” Hutchinson said. “Our position is that we were negotiating this transition with the city and then the city just stopped responding to emails and suddenly decided that negotiations were over. So for us, we need voluntary recognition and then we need the city council to direct the city to come back to the table.”
The Monday Council agenda stated 22 of 27 employees in the water distribution division signed submission cards to be represented by LiUNA Local 955. The employees are classified by the city as Utility Service Worker I, Water Distribution Operator I, Water Distribution Operator II, Water Distribution Crew Leader and Water Distribution Technician.
When asked why only 22 of the 27 employees chose to sign submission cards, Hutchinson said "talk to them," but claimed the city did not allow LiUNA Local 955 to sit down and talk with each of them.
Over the summer, water distribution workers requested that the city recognize their attempt to join Local 955. That request came on July 20. The City didn’t hold a meeting until Sept. 11, which frustrated workers who accused the city of dragging their feet, according to Hutchinson.
According to a press release from Local 955, the two parties traded proposals until Sept. 15. The Fiscal Year 2024 was approved by the City Council on Sept. 18. By doing so, Local 955 believes that the city broke their constitutional rights to collective bargaining and union organizing.
The city’s Water & Light employees were represented by the Water and Light Association, which is not a union, according to a previous release from Local 955.
In 2016, employees of the City Unities 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.
Hutchinson claims that the Water and Light Associuation told workers what deal they were getting from the city, without giving them an opportunity to negotiate.
"They [the city] have to renegotiate with those 27 workers, who were forced into a company union," Hutchinson said. "Supervisors picked who was going to go. They had one meeting. Got told what they were going to get and they left."