As we headed off to enjoy our Labor Day weekend, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board was posting public notice of an innocuous-looking vote for its meeting on Wednesday. It is being described as a vote on an agreement with the Loppet Foundation designed to improve ski trails and winter recreation opportunities for everyone in Minneapolis. While some of this is accurate, what is not being discussed is that this agreement in its current form represents one of the biggest examples of privatization of public jobs in the 130-year history of our Park Board.
Over the last several years, the board, its park keepers and the Loppet Foundation have cultivated an effective partnership that has improved maintenance in Wirth Park’s winter recreation area and improved access to opportunities for young people and families from all walks of life to engage in healthy, family-friendly activities. This partnership has helped create the recent boom in interest in cross-country skiing that has led to a plan to create a world-class winter recreation center called the Trailhead that we’re all proud of.
Sadly, at the height of our mutual success, this agreement — as currently proposed — would displace the hardworking men and women at the Park Board who have been on the front lines of Wirth Park for decades and replace them with unproven, untrained, low-wage workers.
The successes we’ve achieved at Wirth Park are because of Park Board employees, not in spite of them. It’s unbelievable to us that anyone would even be considering an idea to outsource the same men and women who have helped create the No. 1 park system in America and some of the best ski trails in the region.
The Park Board is under constant criticism for systemically cutting off lines to gainful employment for our communities of color, and so many of us are fighting for things like a livable minimum wage and paid sick time. To outsource these good, steady jobs with low-wage, low-benefit positions is counter to all of our shared values and could jeopardize the quality of our ski trails.
A win-win situation would be for the Loppet to contribute additional payroll dollars to the Park Board; in turn, the Park Board could add skilled park keepers and trail-maintenance positions. This would allow people of color who are currently feeling excluded from gainful employment in the parks system additional opportunities to attain living-wage jobs with benefits while adding resources to our trails. The Laborers Union and the Park Board are working together to expand pathways to the middle class by developing a park keeper trainee program. We are excited to create meaningful career opportunities for people who need them. This proposed agreement steps away from sustaining these family-supporting jobs.
The Loppet has made amazing contributions to Minneapolis’ parks. We want to see that continue. The two organizations have worked together for decades, with union labor proudly building the product upon which the Loppet has built its reputation. Park Board members need to take a step back to ensure that the next steps in its partnership with the Loppet are fair for the community and provide gainful employment opportunities for current and future employees.
The irony of this attack on gainful employment being released to the public on Labor Day weekend was not lost on the authors of this commentary. We hope it is not lost on you. Please join us in demanding that our Park Board require that Wirth Park have trained, fairly compensated professionals who truly care about the quality of their work.
Brad Bourn is a member of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Corey Webster is president of Laborers Local 363. Nekima Levy-Pounds is president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, and Cathy Jones is second vice president of that chapter.