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City of Billings responds to union claims of big administrator pay hikes

Posted at 7:44 PM, Jun 21, 2024

BILLINGS — The city of Billings broke its silence Friday on its contract negotiations with union workers, alleging that recent statements by union leaders mischaracterized pay increases for top administrators.

"I wanted to correct the misinformation because I think it's pretty substantial," said Billings City Administrator Chris Kukulski at City Hall Friday.

Kukulski called a news conference in response to comments made by representatives of the Teamsters Local 190 Union in an MTN report Thursday.

The Teamsters Local 190 Union spoke on the stark contrast in salary hikes between city workers and city administration In that report, Jim Soumas, the Teamsters' secretary-treasurer, cited figures provided to him by the city that administrators, excluding Kukulski, received pay increases ranging between 8 percent and 17 percent in 2023.

Kukulski said Friday the range was actually between 0.7 percent to a high of 16.6 percent.

A quote from Teamsters Union Local 190 Secretary/Treasurer Jim Soumas

Kukulski said the union's numbers were inflated because they represent close to two years of increases.

"There were not back-to-back years of adjusting pay by these significant market adjustments," said Kukulski.

He said the city switched away from longevity-based increases to a new market-rate system for the city's directors and assistant directors only in spring 2023.

Before that change was made, city directors and assistant directors were given a 3% cost-of-living increase in their annual salary, not including longevity-based increases.

Kulkuski doesn't dispute the numbers provided by the union are technically correct, but he argued they required additional context.

"Technically, yes, it's both. And I guess you could read what it says there. You could read that into our percentage change 2023 to 2024," Kukulski said.

Provided by Billings PIO Victoria Hill

Teamsters Union Local 190 secretary and treasurer Jim Soumas responded late Friday afternoon. 

"They (the city) provided the compensation information via an information request from us. I am not sure what is not accurate," he said in a statement.

Kukulski said the goal is to have a similar market-driven pay structure across the entire organization. The city said its most recent offer to the union, called its "last, best and final" offer, was taken directly from their market pay study. Teamster members voted to reject that offer Monday.

“I can't forcibly mandate a change inside any of the three bargaining agreements, police, fire, or Teamsters. But at the table, working with Teamsters, yes, we are working to implement the same structure for our Teamster members. And then after that point, we will look at implementing in our non-represented employee group as well," said Kukulski.

Teamsters Union Local 190 secretary and treasurer Jim Soumas in a previous interview Thursday.

He doesn't know if that will happen because negotiations are still taking place.

“As of today, the only individuals who lost or no longer get longevity are the group of people you see here, the directors and assistant directors. The Teamster contract still has longevity, and non-represented, that change has not been made yet,” Kukulski said.

Three more days of negotiations are to take place next week with Kukulski hoping to prevent a strike or other work stoppage.

“We have a strike plan. We’ve been working and preparing. Unfortunately for this, it’s been rumored for this whole year that this is likely going to happen, so we have a plan,” added Kukulski.