These Goats Are Scabs

Union files grievance after university deploys goats to deal with poison ivy

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A Michigan union is accusing goats of stealing their jobs after a university began using the animals for lawn maintenance.

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 1668 (AFSCME) has filed a grievance against Western Michigan University for deploying a herd of goats to maintain 15 acres of woodland on its 1,200 acre campus. The grievance alleges that the university violated its collective bargaining agreement by using non-union goats and failing to notify leadership of the 400-member labor group of the decision to use the animals. Union President Dennis Moore told the Battle Creek Enquirer that the goats were taking jobs that would otherwise be performed by laid-off laborers.

"AFSCME takes protecting the jobs of its members very seriously and we have an agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement with Western Michigan," he told the Enquirer.

The university denied that it had violated the labor rights of its workers and emphasized that the goats were limited in use. The animals were hired to clear a small woodland segment of poison ivy and invasive species, rather than cut the grass—a job reserved for maintenance crews that belong to AFSCME. University spokeswoman Cheryl Roland told the Enquirer that goats were first introduced onto campus in a pilot program in 2016, which did not result in a labor grievance. The campus has since expanded its goat workforce from 10 to 20 in order to deal with increased acreage.

"For the second summer in a row, we've brought in a goat crew to clear undergrowth in a woodlot, much of it poison ivy and other vegetation that is a problem for humans to remove," Roland told the paper. "Not wanting to use chemicals, either, we chose the goat solution to stay environmentally friendly."

The union disputes the idea that human beings are unable to clear poison ivy. Moore said that the situation necessitated a formal grievance because the university failed to honor its exclusive contract with the union.

"We expect the contract to be followed, and in circumstances where we feel it's needed, we file a grievance," he told the Enquirer.

On Monday, a university spokeswoman confirmed that a grievance had been filed, but decline to comment further on union dispute.

"There’s a grievance process underway, and we don’t want to say anything that might violate this process," she said.

The union did not respond to requests for comment from the Washington Free Beacon.

Update July 10, 10:20 a.m.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from the university.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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