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Workers for Kansas City, MO, secure raises in bid to prevent brain drain

Photo credit: Getty Images
By AFL-CIO and AFSCME Staff ·

With retirements and staff exits reaching new highs among public service workers employed by Kansas City, Missouri, AFSCME Local 500 members went to the negotiating table with a simple message – raise wages or continue to lose hardworking, experienced, committed staff.  

It worked.

Kansas City workers celebrated last month as their union, Local 500, and city leaders signed a new contract. As the AFL-CIO reported, the collective bargaining agreement set a citywide minimum wage of $16 an hour for seasonal and part-time workers, and $17 an hour for full-time workers. It included an average wage increase of 12.6%, plus a longevity pay bonus for workers with five or more years of service, and future yearly raises of 3%-4%.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Local 500 President Reginald Silvers told KSHB, a television station. “The goal is recruitment, retention and training, and we have solved some of those problems with these negotiations. Local 500 is grateful and appreciative.”

Local 500 members perform a variety of jobs across the city. They are road crews, public health staff, code enforcement officers, plant operators, electricians, cooks, custodians, and much more.

Kevin O’Neill, a Kansas City councilman at large and publisher and editor of the Kansas City Beacon, a labor newspaper, told KSHB that the new contract was a “great start but nowhere near the finish line.”

Prior to the new contract, which instituted a step-pay system for workers, city workers were leaving in record numbers, causing what one city official called a “silver tsunami,” according to the Kansas City Beacon. Retirements, which had averaged 145 per year since 2016, rose to 209 in 2021. The problem got so bad that Kansas City had to implement an emergency pay bonus just to space out the retirements, the Beacon reported.

Those leaving city employment to retire or seek greener pastures take years of experience and capacity with them, which limits the ability of the government to keeping Kansas City running.

That’s why City Manager Brian Platt made raising wages such a priority during negotiations.

“Our new Local 500 union contract better supports our front line essential service workers, who have been severely underpaid for decades,” Platt said in a tweet.

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