AUXVASSE — After what they describe as five months of unsuccessful contract negotiations with Kingdom Telephone Co., members of Communication Workers of America union are fed up.
"Employees (at Kingdom Telephone) are working without a contract, and we've had a hard time getting the company to the table," CWA Local 6311 President Darin Nelson said.
KTC General Manager Renee Reeter disputed that version of events in a Wednesday statement.
"Since last October, the company has participated in six days of negotiations with the CWA Union on behalf of the 14 Kingdom employees the Union represents, including one day with a federal mediator, attempting to reach agreement on a new collective bargaining contract," she said.
On Wednesday, a number of union members picked up red signs demanding workers' rights and stood in the cold in front of Kingdom Telephone's Auxvasse headquarters. The company's workers, including office staff and the technicians who install and service the company's equipment, have "been a unionized workforce going on 50 years," Nelson said.
Nelson clarified the picketers didn't include Kingdom Telephone employees.
"We didn't want to put anyone at risk for retribution," he said.
He outlined the requests KTC's employees have for their new contract: a cost-of-living wage increase, greater employer contributions toward the cost of insurance and pension protections.
Union employees are paid an average of just under $28 per hour, with the company contributing an additional 11.9 percent toward pensions and 401(k) benefits, Reeter said. The company also pays $1,800 per month, per employee toward health insurance coverage, she said.
The negotiations have been ongoing since October, Nelson said.
"The National Labor Relation Board has set a precedent that employees without a contract are treated as if the previous contract were still in place," he explained.
Nelson declined to go into the details of the contract negotiations so far. He also acknowledged the wages the company pays are "very good."
But, he said, Kingdom Telephone planned to offer no raises "for the next three years." (The last raise, he said, came in January 2018.)
"We looked at other small telecommunications companies in the Midwest," Nelson said. "We're not seeing other companies making such harsh demands that the workers accept not getting pay raises. Everyone else is seeing cost-of-living increases."
Reeter stated that's not the case.
"The company offered during negotiations to increase the wage rates by the same percent each year as was agreed to in the last contract, to increase the base pension and 401(k) percentage, and to continue the same monthly contribution toward health insurance," she said.
She also claimed the union never voted on the company's "best and final offer," dated Dec. 6, or the repackaged version of the offer from Jan. 25.
"The union states the company is not offering enough," Reeter said. "The company disagrees and believes the parties are at impasse."
Nelson said union members plan to attend the upcoming annual shareholder meeting, slated for Saturday at North Callaway High School. Registration opens at 10:30 a.m., and the meeting is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.