By Kay Braddock
Buffalo Rapids machinist Strad Benjamin questioned wage and benefit figures presented at the BR annual meeting held earlier this month.
“I really kind of take offense at this,” Benjamin said of the handouts given to those who attended the annual meeting in Glendive.
My figures and those shown at the meeting don’t match up, Benjamin said.
After conducting his own Internet research and contacting the Montana Department of Labor, Benjamin said annual wage figures for area counties were about $3,000 above what was stated at the meeting. When he discovered Prairie County’s annual average wage was at $26,572, Benjamin said his gross wages were actually below that amount, despite numbers given at the meeting.
Buffalo Rapids member-at-large commissioner Ric Holden, who presented a detailed “snapshot picture” of BR employee wages and benefits, said he was attempting to inform water users of their expenses.
“This was a meeting for the farmers,” Holden said. “The farmers need to know what these wages are.”
He noted annual average wage figures for counties are categorized according to different kinds of work, explaining different figures can be obtained from the state.
But Benjamin questioned the notion that employees are a liability to the project – a feeling some employees, he said, left with after attending the annual meeting.
“I don’t consider myself a liability,” Benjamin said, adding, “I think of the employees, as a whole, as an asset.”
He also questioned the assertion that BR employees ever used the word strike, as was mentioned at the meeting.
“Mr. Holden is the first person I heard say anything about a strike,” Benjamin said. He noted that after employees’ use of equipment was taken away, BR project manager Dave Schwarz gave commissioners a letter listing possible consequences that could occur as a result of taking away long-held employee benefits. One of those options listed, was unionization of employees, which could include a strike. But Benjamin said he isn’t aware of any employees who threatened to take on such an action.
“I didn’t think that was right sir,” Benjamin said, adding “I don’t appreciate words getting put in my mouth.”
Producer Lynn Wittmayer, who listened to Benjamin’s comments, expressed similar sentiments. She was concerned about a handout that listed the names of BR employees and included detailed information on their wages and benefits.
“I realize it’s probably public knowledge, that if somebody needs that information, they can go get it,” Wittmayer said. “But I didn’t think it was right to give it to everyone there.”
Published Nov. 18, 2009