COLUMBIA, Mo. - City bus drivers would benefit the most from the Columbia City Council raising the minimum wage for workers to $15 an hour.
An ABC 17 News analysis shows that bus drivers make up the largest division of workers among the 204 full-time employees that would get the raise. Thirty-two of the transit division's 36 bus drivers make less than $15 an hour. Those 32 drivers make up 15 percent of the list of employees making a wage less than $15 an hour.
The city council made the wage increase its top priority in dealing with a bevy of pay issues for next fiscal year. City staff estimates it will cost $869,000 to move employees to $15 an hour minimum. The city council agreed to revise its sales tax estimates and make a series of service reductions to departments to achieve the raises.
The 32 bus drivers at less than $15 an hour make an hourly wage anywhere from $13.78 to $14.77. Only four drivers, all with the paratransit service, make more than $15 an hour. No bus drivers make a wage at or above the midpoint salary for a driver, considered the competitive rate across the country.
Senior administrative support assistants trail bus drivers at 26 positions that are currently below the $15 an hour rate.
The analysis shows that 34 equipment operators across several departments will also benefit from the raise. Thirty-five workers throughout several parts of Solid Waste, including the city's landfill and trash collectors, will also see a boost in pay.
Eric Scott, field representative for the local chapter of the Laborers' International Union of North America, said city workers they represent were optimistic about the various raises, but were anxious for them to become official. Scott said the lagging pay when compared to other cities and the private sectors created a shortage in several departments, such as Solid Waste and Public Works.
"They like their jobs, they want to continue with the city," Scott said. "But at the wages that have been offered, it's just been very hard to justify for themselves and for their families continuing to work for that amount of money."
For months, city workers in various departments came to the city council to discuss pay issues and poor working conditions. Many departments have had to rely on temporary worker agencies to help get the job done due to several vacancies.
Scott said those vacancies and staff shortages can lead to backed up work and possible safety issues for workers. He said that as the city moves forward, it should focus on ways to give sustainable raises to not only existing workers, but the workers it will hire to fill vacancies.
"What we need is not to necessarily have it that once a decade, we have a big catch-up moment, but rather that we have it so that folks constantly, every year know that as the rest of their cost of living gets more expensive, they know that their salaries are going to keep up with it," Scott said.
(Editor's note: An earlier version of the story said that 211 employees made less than $15 an hour. At least 204 employees make a wage below that rate.)