UTICA, N.Y. (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – The Utica Zoo has frequently been in the press over the past few weeks, and it looks like that’s not stopping anytime soon.
Now, employees at the zoo are attempting to form a union with CSEA, or the Civil Service Employees Association. On October 5th, the Utica Common Council voted to adopt a resolution to support the unionization of the workers of the Utica Zoo, but it’s not yet set in stone.
“Hopefully management hear us tonight – they hear us, they hear the council,” said Kallen Muste, Education & Ambassador Specialist at the Utica Zoo.
“We are seeking that voluntary recognition,” he explained, “and that’s them recognizing the union and saying, ‘alright, you have your union, let’s go talk, let’s go make this happen,’ but if they don’t do that, our next step is our union vote, and we have that on October 20th.”
He continued, “So, that votes coming up, and as a staff, we get to vote whether we want to union or not, and should that resolution pass, and should the union form after that comes contracts and negotiations, and things like that.”
Twenty-six zoo workers across all subdivisions including zookeepers, vet techs, education ambassadors, groundskeepers, and more began working together to form a union with CSEA after being frequently dissatisfied with management.
“A lot of the staff feels that they are not being represented by management – and that we need, and deserve, a bigger voice to help make the zoo as best it possibly can be for the staff, and the animals we take care of there,” said Muste.
This group believes that if this union were to strike a deal with the Utica Zoo, it would make the city staple a better place to visit, work and live – and would reduce the zoo’s overall employee turnover rate.
“Institutional knowledge, especially in terms of zookeepers who have worked with particular animals for a long period of time, is incredibly important,” explained Garrett Buck, Zookeeper Two at the Utica Zoo.
“So, any loss there is a much bigger loss than you might have at your standard office job.”
He continued, “I think having the solidarity of the union behind us is really going to help out a lot with getting us things like greater pay, that’s so chronically underdone at zoos, and being able to have a voice in how the greater facilities work in terms of improving animal care, and visitor experience from our own perspective.”
And although the decision by the Utica Common Council is just a small step in the process, this group is extremely motivated by the decision.
“This city is what makes the zoo possible, it’s what makes the zoo fantastic, and so having the support of the council here tonight really means a lot to us, and we really appreciate it,” said Muste.
Now – to clear up any confusion – the Utica Zoological Society, Inc. does in fact own and operate the zoo, making it a private sector that is applicable for unionization.
I’ll be following up with zoo management in the next few weeks for comment, so be sure to keep up with the latest information.