Striking labor disputes in the City of Parks


Consistently rated in the top 3 park systems in the country, our beloved Minneapolis parks have a labor problem. The largest bargaining unit of unionized workers at Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) jvoted to authorize a strike on June 18 and went on strike July 4. Over 200 arborists, parkkeepers, laborers, and other essential front-line park employees organized with the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA!) Local 363 voted with an overwhelming 94% margin in favor of a strike if no significant progress is made toward a fair contract.

Key LiUNA! 363 demands include:
-Fair and competitive wages to address retention and recruitment.
-Inflation correction that makes up for the nearly 10% pay cut in real terms endured in recent years.
-Affordable, equitable health insurance without prohibitive out-of-pocket employee costs, saving the Park Board hundreds of thousands a year.
-Vacation benefits parity with executive staff like Superintendent Bangoura, who receives 30 days of vacation per year.
-Basic protections of workers’ professional credentials and continuing education benefits that the Park Board is attempting to remove.

Matt Gassman, a horticultural crewleader, testified at a recent MPRB meeting that “some members feel like a few years ago they were barely thriving, but now they are barely surviving. This condition is hurting Minneapolis parks. We are struggling to fill positions and retain talent. We are going in the wrong direction.”

LiUNA! 363 also filed a strike notice over two years ago over their last contract negotiations. Mitch Clendenen, a parkkeeper at MPRB, says, “Last time, we just didn’t have the member turnout that we have right now. So we accepted their crappy deal.” But now, after dozens of mediation sessions since last December and working for over six months without a contract, these workers are getting more serious about what a fair contract means for them and for our city. Annual pay increases that continually lag behind inflation hurt the individual workers and disincentivize staff from making their careers here. 

Casey Roser, an aborist at MPRB, recalls, “I used to be a social worker in Minneapolis. I actually thought that going into arboriculture and working in the trades would be more of a living wage.  I’ve been really disheartened to still be working paycheck to paycheck. I have a two-year-old son, and I don’t get to see him every other weekend because I have to work at my second job to pay the bills just to scrape by. And this is one of the most dangerous jobs you can have.” 

Molly Hillenbrand, a parkkeeper and union steward at LiUNA! 363, recalls, “I started as a seasonal parkkeeper in 2006. While working here and having two other jobs, I was able to purchase my house in 2014 and have taken a lot of pride in owning a home. After getting to the top step parkkeeper, the dream of owning a home is less and less sustainable. My great fear is not being able to afford my house in the city I work in.”

Kerrick Sarbecker also works in the Forestry Department and says, “I want to stay there, but my rent goes up every year. My lease is up at the end of June, and I can’t find an affordable place. Buying a house is not an option for me and a lot of my coworkers. It is really unfortunate that Minneapolis Park Board employees can't afford to live in the city.”

According to LiUNA! 363, they filed an unfair labor practice charge against MPRB earlier this year for issuing a gag order on members and retaliating against them for attempting to raise public awareness about the Park Board's harmful practices impacting low-income black and brown communities. The charge was withdrawn after management rescinded the work rule restricting employee speech. However, the friction between workers and management continues to build. 

I am immensely proud of our unique urban tree canopy and those who maintain it. At a time when Minneapolis Police and Teacher union contracts draw public attention, the simultaneous defunding of our park workforce is cause for concern if we wish to continue to be the City of Parks.


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