A group of 250 Physical Plant Operators (PPOs), Senior Custodians, and Custodians in the Minneapolis Public Schools filed for a union election to join SEIU Local 284 the week before Christmas. A majority signed cards expressing their desire to have the election. 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.
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 union election, which will be done by mail ballot in February, is a new chapter in the changing power dynamic between the Minneapolis school district and the group of engineers and custodians. The workers were represented by SEIU Local 63 for decades until 2016 when they voted 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 we filed the cards for our election and am ready to join the 9,000 statewide members of SEIU Local 284,” 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.”
“Right now things aren’t going well for those of us who keep the buildings running in the Minneapolis Public Schools,” Aanonson continued, “and no one was there to help us fight back.”