A group of 250 Physical Plant Operators (PPOs), Senior Custodians, and Custodians in the Minneapolis Public Schools voted this week to join SEIU Local 284. The workers clean and maintain all 67 of the Minneapolis public schools, ensuring safe buildings and facilities for the tens of thousands of students in the district.
"We're happy to be putting an end to a very difficult time for us,” said Senior Custodian Roger Bratsch. “Through hard work and with better representation we are determined to make our voices heard as a united group of valuable workers"
Ernie Gonzales, Senior Custodian at Roosevelt High School added, “The crew here at Roosevelt High School sees today as a new beginning. We're hopeful that this will give members a much needed morale boost"
The effort to unionize follows a July 2017 reorganization by the school district that rolled back working conditions and wages in an effort to deal with a $28 million budget gap. A system of about 100 “engineers-in-charge” and “assistant engineers” was reduced to a contingent of 15 “physical plant operators.” According to the Southwest Journal, 30 of the district’s 54 most senior building engineers were placed into custodian positions with a pay decrease of up to $4 an hour. Both the engineers involved as well as teachers expressed concern that the change would increase safety risks in school buildings.
The workers filed for a union election to join SEIU Local 284 the week before Christmas, beginning a new chapter in the changing power dynamic between the Minneapolis school district and the group of engineers and custodians. The group was represented by SEIU Local 63 for decades until 2016 when they voted by a narrow margin to leave and form the Minneapolis Association of Custodians and Engineers (MACE). SEIU 63 no longer exists and MACE has no bargaining rights with the school district. The workers had little leverage to stop the recent demotions and pay cuts and many in the group now see a need for change.
"I'm excited,” said Will Aanonson, a senior custodian who has been with the district nearly 15 years. “It is time for a change to go back to a union instead of an association.”
Workers are organizing through unions and other organizations to improve their lives. Union representation provides a voice on the job and the opportunity to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.