BR employee benefits addressed

 By Kay Braddock

Buffalo Rapids member-at-large commissioner Ric Holden presented a detailed “snapshot picture” of employee wages and benefits at the irrigation project’s annual meeting in Glendive.
“You can add across and you can see what your employees annual income is going to be for wages and benefits,” Holden explained as water users examined handouts listing names, wages and benefits of BR employees. 
According to data provided on the handouts, active employee annual wages and benefits totaled over $470,000 at the end of October for the irrigation project. With 14 employees listed, Holden noted the average annual wage and benefits, which totals about $34,000, is well over the annual income for the area.
“You, as agriculture producers, are making less on the average than your employees that you’re paying to hire to deliver your water,” Holden said. “And that’s just the way it is and that’s something to consider as we move forward.”
According to numbers presented by Holden the average annual wage for Prairie County is $23,556, Custer County $25,688 and Dawson County $30,680. It was not made clear at the meeting whether those numbers included benefits as the BR figures did.
“Most of the people sitting in this room would probably make somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000 in the agriculture sector,” Holden said. 
Holden also addressed verbal benefits employees have “assumed over the years.” These benefits include: Personal use of company vehicles, shop facilities, heavy equipment and BR charge accounts, along with recognizing 18 government holidays, vacation time, compensation in lieu of pay and sick leave. 
“As another little side benefit, the board, this summer, voted to allow any employee, that if the husband and the wife are over 65, we drop their health care plan and we pay full boat on the Medicare,” Holden said. “You won’t find businesses doing that either.”
BR has a 40 percent healthcare insurance burden, Holden noted. “We pay for the employee. We pay for his wife and we pay for their kids,” Holden said. “It’s a very good insurance coverage we provide. And you won’t find it anywhere else, especially in this area.”
Tensions between the BR board and employees began after last year’s decision to no longer allow employees use of heavy equipment, Holden said. The decision was revoked a month later after employees complained.
“It was a benefit that they felt they had coming to them,” Holden said. “They more or less threatened the board and said, ‘if you take that away from us, then we’re going to strike and vote to unionize.’ ”
Negotiations between the BR Board of Control and union representatives are expected to begin before the end of the year.

Published Oct. 11, 2009

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