Local labor leaders renewed their calls for the University of Missouri to institute a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour Thursday.

Member of Laborer’s International Union of North America, Local 773 in Columbia and supporters held a news conference and rally at Memorial Union where they demanded MU pay maintenance workers, service workers and other laborers a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour. Local 773 Field Representative Eric Scott told the Tribune before the news conference that because Columbia increased its minimum wage for city workers to $15 per hour and Columbia Public Schools indicated a plan to do the same, the city’s largest public-sector employer should follow suit.

“If we’re looking at the Boone County public sector workers, this is the direction we’re going,” Scott said.


Members of the union held a similar rally in April urging MU to increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour as negotiations started. Last year 65 percent of Missouri voters approved Missouri Proposition B, which increased the state’s minimum wage from $7.85 per hour to $8.60 on Jan. 1 and $12 per hour by 2023. The increase applies only to private sector employees. Service and retail businesses with revenues of less than $500,000 per year are also exempt.

At a news conference after a UM Board of Curators Meeting Thursday, System President Mun Choi acknowledged that service, maintenance employees and laborers are on the “low end of the pay scale” and the university wants to pay these employees fairly. Raising the university’s minimum wage to $15 per hour would cost $50 million, Choi said.

“To go from where we are currently to go to $15 is very difficult,” Choi said. “That would be equivalent to eliminating the school of education and engineering.”

Local 773 represents about 1,500 workers at MU, University Hospital and the University of Missouri Kansas City. The union also represents workers employed by the city and school district.

The sides face a Sept. 1 deadline before the current agreement expires. Under Missouri law, public employees may not strike, so if the contract runs out before a new agreement is reach the existing agreement would continue until the sides can reach a deal or seek federal mediation, Scott said.

In talks Tuesday and Wednesday, Local 773 received a response where MU made no guarantees to move to the $12 per hour standard set by Proposition B, Scott said.

Many of the union’s members do make well above $15 per hour, Scott said. Still, some on the lower end of the pay scale made as little as $9.70 per hour last year, he said.

At issue, he said, is that workers want to earn enough money to make a living wage. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology defines a living wage as the hourly wage needed to cover the cost of basic goods.

One adult working full time needs to earn a wage of $11.13 per hour in Columbia to earn a living wage, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. Two adults working full-time need to earn wages of $9.08 per hour each, and parents with two working adults and two children each need to earn wages of $15 per hour to earn a living wage in Columbia.

“When you look at the kinds of expertise and training they require, they’re below somebody at another place with the same kind of expertise,” Scott said. “In general, university wages are lower than they should be.”

Columbia's unemployment rate of 2.1 percent in April remained below the state’s unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, according to U.S. Labor Department data. The national unemployment rate in May remained unchanged from April at 3.6 percent.

Choi acknowledged the labor market is tight.

“We are always looking for ways to be competitive,” Choi said. “The job market is very dynamic.”

Tribune reporter Roger McKinney contributed to this article.