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Union Objects to Goat Gardeners

Union advocates have long held the settled opinion that independent contractors are really misclassified employees, taking work that should be done by union members. Apparently, that objection also extends to four-legged contractors.

Over the past two summers, Western Michigan University deployed a herd of goats to help it clear out undergrowth in wooded areas on the school’s campus.

By using this method, the school can safely remove hazardous plants, such as poison ivy, without pesticides or by exposing its human employees to dangerous working conditions.

However, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1668., which represents WMU landscaping employees, says the goats are a threat to its members’ livelihood.

Although it’s easy to make jokes about this situation, it does provide a serious lesson for employers, according to Ryan N. Parsons, an attorney with the law firm of Foley & Lardner.

“The truth is that when dealing with a grievance like this, contract language can make a huge difference,” he says.

If the grievance is submitted to arbitration, the decision could be based on what the collective bargaining agreement says about management rights, subcontracting and the scope of work performed by the union.

“If the collective bargaining agreement’s language is not favorable to the university, it is entirely possible that an arbitrator would rule in the union’s favor,” Parsons points out.

“For this reason, creating a strategic plan for collective bargaining is absolutely essential,” he stresses.

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