Months-long arbitration between University, custodians is coming to a close

After sending their arguments to an arbitrator, the University of Minnesota and its custodial workers now await a decision about their battle over new cleaning practices.

The arbitration process between the University and the worker’s union, Teamsters Local 320, began in February after the University implemented a new team cleaning practice that workers say violates their contract. The union filed a grievance last June before the new system was implemented.

April 9 marked the final day that either side could submit arguments to the arbitrator. In the union’s contract, the arbitrator has 30 days to make a decision. But Curt Swenson, a business agent for the union who is leading the arbitration, said that requirement was waived as a gesture of good faith and that he expects the arbitrator to have a decision soon.

Swenson said he’s been a part of many negotiations with the University in the past but the results of this arbitration will affect a larger group of workers.

“Usually grievances in the past may affect one or two or three. This will affect all the [custodial employees], which have numbers in the hundreds,” Swenson said.

Workers were upset when the University implemented the new cleaning process last August.

In the previous system, custodians were required to clean an entire area, like a whole floor or part of one, in a building. Workers were responsible for all necessary tasks within that area.

In the new system, custodians work in teams to clean an area, with each taking an individual task.

The union has argued that its contract states the workers get to bid on areas to clean based on seniority and that is lost with the new team-cleaning practice.

Many custodians also say the old way was better because they were able to take pride in the area they cleaned themselves.

The University said with budget cuts, the new team cleaning method is a way to maintain cleaning practices with a smaller staff.

Brad Hoff, chief administrative officer for Facilities Management, said the University has taken all the necessary procedures for the arbitration and that he couldn’t comment on specifics of the legal dispute until it was finished. Swenson also declined to comment on specifics.

The arbitration is the final step in the four-step grievance process that’s outlined in the worker’s contract, Swenson said. The first three are internal and if it’s not resolved through them, both parties then enter into arbitration.

The parties met for two days in February and once on March 7 for the final day of testimony.

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Kevin Burbach's picture
Kevin Burbach

Kevin Burbach writes for the Minnesota Daily.