Western Michigan University is one of the top four-year colleges in the nation. Its five campuses in and around Kalamazoo, Mich., comprising more than 1200 acres, feature plenty of green, open spaces meticulously maintained by union members of the local AFSCME chapter.
But in addition to all those green lawns, there’s a 12-acre section of woodland. It is here that a titanic struggle is being waged between the AFSCME local and university officials over the use of non-union labor.
The union has sued the school alleging they are using scab labor to maintain the woodland and didn’t inform them of their plans to do so.
And who are these union-busting workers who so cavalierly take the food out of the mouths of children of union families?
A herd of 20 goats.
The 400-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has filed a grievance contending that the work the goats are doing in a wooded lot is taking away jobs from laid-off union workers.
“AFSCME takes protecting the jobs of its members very seriously and we have an agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement with Western Michigan,” said Union President Dennis Moore. “We expect the contract to be followed, and in circumstances where we feel it’s needed, we file a grievance.”
The grievance alleges that the university did not notify the union that it was planning to use goat crews on campus, according to a chief steward report supplied to the Battle Creek Enquirer.
University spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said a small goat crew has been on campus this summer, but not to cut grass.
“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 said. “Not wanting to use chemicals, either, we chose the goat solution to stay environmentally friendly.
The area is rife with poison ivy and other invasive species, and our analysis showed the goats to be a sustainable and cost-effective way of removing them,” she added.
The goats were formally introduced to the campus and local community on June 2 in parking lot 51 of the Sindecuse Health Center.
Garrett Fickle and his wife, Gina, the owners of Munchers on Hooves in Coldwater, rent out their four-footed “lawn mowers” to homeowners, commercial property owners and other clients.
WMU used a 10-goat crew for one week last summer as part of a pilot project, which Roland called a success.
The 20-goat crew is expected to clear about 15 acres on the southwest side of Goldsworth pond before students return for the fall semester.
The goats are ahead of schedule, said Nicholas Gooch, a university horticulturist and the project leader.
Perhaps if the goats weren’t so efficient that they were ahead of schedule, the suit might make some sense. But goats are not known to take long lunches or frequent breaks, sleep on the job, call in sick, complain, complain, complain about every little thing — they are the ideal workers for this sort of job.
AFSCME may want to try to organize the goats. No doubt they could use the dues collected from the beasts. However, if you spend any time at all around goats, you know they have a mind of their own and an iron will to do whatever they please. But put them in front of some luscious undergrowth and they become a fabulous addition to any workforce.
The union should be happy that it’s goats they are fighting and not robots. That battle will no doubt come later.