Motorists and pedestrians in downtown Columbia noticed a large inflatable rat outside city hall during Wednesday’s state of the city address, as union members protested the city’s most recent wage proposal.
Andrew Hutchinson is with Laborers’ local 955, which represents service and maintenance workers as well as public works and utility workers in Columbia.
“And the reason we’re out here today during the state of the city is that we want folks to know that there is a staffing crisis at the city of Columbia. The reason recycling pickup is canceled, the reason bus routes are on their way to getting cut majorly is because we can’t properly recruit and retain staff at the city,” Hutchinson tells 939 the Eagle.
Mr. Hutchinson says the city’s current wage proposal decreases pay by $5.82 an hour on average for residential solid waste and recycling workers. He also says mechanics would only see a pay increase of 83 cents an hour, with the city facing a severe mechanic shortage.
A number of motorists driving by Columbia city hall Wednesday honked their horns in support of protesting union employees who were standing near a large inflatable rat. The rat had a banner which read “shame on city management,” referring to the city’s most recent wage offer.
“The city is paying millions of dollars every year to outsourced fleet maintenance and for temporary workers to fill vacancies because we can’t pay people in-house. So we are shoveling out money to corporations instead of keeping in-house workers and getting the job done cheaper inside,” Hutchinson says.
Mr. Hutchinson tells 939 the Eagle that the city paid $3.8 million in the last three fiscal years for outside maintenance work on fleet vehicles. He also says they’ve spent about $2-million in the last three fiscal years to temporary labor contractors.
The Laborers’ Local 955 says there’s a staffing crisis in the city that is getting worse.
City manager De’Carlon Seewood says he can’t discuss specifics of the city’s offer but emphasizes that Columbia’s approximately 1,500 city employees are the city’s most valuable asset. He also says the city has about 250 vacancies.
The Laborers union is holding an essential workers picnic Thursday afternoon at 5 at Shepherd Boulevard park, to raise more awareness about the contract dispute.