The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board called a special meeting on Monday night for Park & Recreation Board leadership to present a summary of union contract negotiations with workers represented by Laborers' International Union of North America Local 360. A summary of the financial outlook for the Park & Recreation Board was also presented, with a particular focus on the tax levy, which the board will vote on Wednesday.

The board itself doesn’t take part in union contract negotiations. A full list of the union contract negotiation team can be found on page six of the contract negotiation summary presentation.

The Park & Rec workers represented by LIUNA Local 360, including park-keepers and arborists, have been negotiating a contract with management since December. The two sides have been in mediation since February, which means negotiations have been behind closed doors.

Union members voted in June to authorize a strike and when union contract talks broke down with Park & Rec Board management on July 1, union members went on strike on July 4. The union announced its strike would last a week. Members who are currently on strike are expected to be back on the job on Thursday. [Editor's note: as of July 10, LIUNA Local 360 announced the strike would continue "indefinitely"]

The board’s director of finance, Juli Wiseman, presented the difference in tax levies between the management and union contract proposals on Monday. The management’s proposal would require a 9.94% change in the tax levy, which would increase property taxes by 1.74%. The union’s proposal would require a 10.79% change, raising property taxes by 1.89%, a 0.15% difference. The board is set to approve a tax levy of 9.94% tomorrow.

Unlike the City budget, which has a more diverse funding stream, 79% of the board’s budget comes from property taxes. Of that budget, 72% of it goes to wages.

The projected tax levy difference between Park & Rec Board management and union’s contract proposals as presented at Monday’s special meeting. The board is set to pass a tax levy of 9.94% on Wednesday night

“This is on us,” Commissioner Becka Thompson said to the striking workers after the financial presentation. “We didn’t want to go over 10%.” Thompson explained that for the board to vote for a tax levy over 10% would require them to “change the budget process.”

Commissioner Becky Alper said it was not “completely at our discretion” to raise the tax levy.

Watch the full July 8 Park & Rec Board meeting

“I think we need to be thinking about cuts,” Alper continued later. “I think we shouldn’t do fireworks next year… we could hit on the pause on certain capital projects. I would rather pay our existing staff more and have fewer staff positions.”

Alper was the only commissioner to propose alternatives to raising the levy during the meeting.

According to Wiseman, the management’s union contract proposal, which is its “last, best, and final” offer, would cost $4.6 million over three years. The last union proposal given to management would cost $6.7 million.  Costs include wages, health insurance, and adding new positions.

Property taxes being linked to the union contract isn’t new. An April Star Tribune article quotes the Park & Rec Board citing lower property tax collections as a reason for tight budget constraints. Union members have identified Bangoura’s 2024 salary raise and where he lives, the historic Thomas Wirth House, as areas where cost cutting could happen.  

“There is money available elsewhere,” LIUNA Local 360’s business manager AJ Lange said as an aside during the meeting. “Bonding, reserves.”

Many union members seemed frustrated during the meeting that the financial focus was only on the tax levy.

“The money is already there,” someone yelled from the crowd.

After the meeting, a striking worker pulled out his phone and tried to show me a commissioner’s LinkedIn profile that included an image of “think outside the box,” as an antithetical illustration of what he saw during the meeting, but he couldn’t get it to load. He started off into the sky instead.

“So many other ways to do this than raise taxes,” he said.

Union claims unfair labor practice

LUINA Local 360 is also filing an unfair labor charge against Superintendent Al Bangoura after he sent an email to Park & Rec Board workers on July 2 informing them that striking workers couldn't return to work until after the strike was over. In the email, he defined the end of the strike as when their union contract was ratified. Bangoura made a statement at Monday's special meeting, saying all striking workers were welcome to come back to work on Thursday, which is the last day of the planned week-long strike.