Springfield, MO

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MENDING INFRASTRUCTURE: A crew with Hunter Chase & Associates Inc. works on a road project in Battlefield.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
MENDING INFRASTRUCTURE: A crew with Hunter Chase & Associates Inc. works on a road project in Battlefield.

Union, contractors ink new employment deal

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The Western Missouri & Kansas Laborers District Council and the Associated General Contractors of Missouri penned a new five-year contract that affects workers in the Springfield area, the organizations announced March 28.

Jeff Phillips, communications and outreach manager for the district council, said the deal represented an increase in pay and benefits for union workers in Locals 663, 579 and 319. However, he declined to disclose the value of the new pay rates for Local 663 construction workers in Springfield and Greene County.

Phillips said the new pay rate for union workers does not exceed the current state-mandated, guaranteed prevailing wage of $25.16 for general laborers on public works projects, such as roads, bridges, schools and sidewalks.

General laborers also are entitled to $13.67 in fringe benefits under state law. However, he said union workers covered by the district typically are paid the prevailing wage for all their work, not just public works projects.

“They work hard and they get paid well,” Phillips said. “The difference is that with ours, we have a specific breakdown between the wage and the benefits. Nonunion people, they may pay their people the entire amount and then they might have to go get their own insurance.”

Prevailing wage will be changing by July 1, Phillips said, noting the rate is determined from a complicated calculation by the Missouri Department of Labor.

“We don’t know what that will be as it will vary from county to county,” he said, noting Greene County’s prevailing wage is in line with the state’s $25.16 per hour.

Declining to disclose specifics of employee benefits, Phillips said workers did not have to give up anything as part of the negotiations. The current five-year contract expires April 30.

“Given the fact the two sides worked together, the best way to typify these conversations was it was very amicable and very productive,” he said, adding formal and informal discussions stretched over several weeks.

AGC President Leonard Toenjes said the two sides had the best interest of the industry in mind going into negotiations. AGC represents over 550 construction firms in Missouri that perform building, highway and infrastructure work, according to its website. The group is associated with several national organizations, including Associated Contractors of America and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

“Both sides worked very well together, both labor and management, to come up with an agreement that both keeps the workers compensated fairly and continues to maintain a competitive environment for the contractors,” he said. “A lot of this is relationship based. To have a real partnership like this, there are talks that go on before negotiations.”

Phillips said there are about 400 Local 663 workers in the 20-county service area his Clever office covers in southern Missouri. The Western Missouri & Kansas Laborers District Council represents employees in 54 western Missouri counties, he added. Among the dozen local contractors that hire Local 663 workers are DeWitt & Associates Inc., Leo Journagan Construction Co. Inc. and Carson-Mitchell Inc.

Phillips said an example of local work performed by union employees is the recently awarded $5.5 million contract for DeWitt & Associates to renovate Missouri State University’s Woods House. Additionally, Carson-Mitchell has completed work on MSU’s campus, renovating Hill Hall, and Phillips said many union members contributed last year to the Highway 65 and Interstate 44 interchange project.

All field workers at Hunter Chase & Associates Inc. are union members, said Mary Beth Hartman, owner and president. She said the union isn’t negotiating on her behalf, but rather for its members, which are her employees.

With the firm handling infrastructure construction projects, such as sidewalks, stormwater, roads and bridges, Hartman said she personally has little interaction with Local 663 office. She typically finds her own workers rather than calling the union for assistance.

Her employee numbers have hovered in the 25-30 range in recent years, adding workers are “in short supply and big demand.” After recently completing the Grant Avenue and College Street streetscape in Springfield, crews now are working on stormwater improvements in Carthage.

“There’s not enough skilled labor force in construction,” she said, noting Missouri’s low unemployment rate, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported at 3.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted, in February.

In the Springfield area, unemployment was at 3.1 percent in February.

“The gas tax has failed twice, so we have not had any infrastructure built in the state of Missouri for a couple of decades,” she said, referring to past Missouri Department of Transportation ballot measures that failed last year and in 2014.

Regardless of ongoing labor supply issues, Hartman said the union contract is a positive for the local construction industry.

“That’s good for my workers and I want them to be happy,” she said.

The contract goes into effect May 1.


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