MU workers demand 'livable wage'

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COLUMBIA - Some University of Missouri workers and the union representing them are held a demonstration Thursday to demand higher wages. While the demonstration did not change the board's decision on wages, the group said it hoped to raise awareness.

The group calls itself "15 for Mizzou." The union Laborers Local 77 represents it.  It is demanding the university pay all of its workers a living wage, which it considers to be $15 an hour.

The group walked from Traditions Plaza to Memorial Union, where the MU Board of Curators meeting was happening. 

Eric Scott, a representative of Laborers Local 77, said MU has a special responsibility to raise wages because of its role in the community.

"This is our region's biggest employer," Scott said.  "This is the center for economic life and cultural life and all sorts of other things here in Columbia and they should just be paying their workers a living wage."
Alex Berman took part in the demonstration. She said she does not think the board has the right priorities. 
"It's ridiculous that they would put profit over people in such a way. These are human beings that are devoted to the community," Bergman said. 
In the past, MU has met with the workers to bargain about wages. In April, MU spokesperson Christian Basi told KOMU the issue is more complicated than it appears.

“It’s not a simple decision to move one aspect of the compensation package or another,” he said. “If I move something over here, I may not be able to move something over there for four, five or ten years because now I have to deal with the cost of this.”

The group said "it's time for Mizzou to follow the lead being set by cities like St. Louis and Columbia by guaranteeing a living wage for all of its employees."

Missourians voted in November to pass an initiative, which will gradually increase the minimum wage in the state. That initiative exempts MU because it is a government employer.

The UM system president, Mun Choi, said the board knows MU wages are not where they would like them to be.

"We are at the low end of the pay scale when we compare ourselves to our peers. So the impetus and the focus and trying to provide more resources for pay increase is something we take very seriously," Choi said.

Choi said the resources to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost more than the system can afford right now.

"We did some calculations, it would take about $50 million to get to that level. $50 million is equivalent to eliminating the School of Education and the School of Engineering at this campus," Choi said.

While wage negotiations between the MU employee's labor union and the Board of Curators are ongoing, 15 for Mizzou said it will continue to fight for a higher minimum wage.

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