Union files grievance claiming goats are stealing landscaping jobs

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/FlickrPhoto: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

Companies trying to be on the cutting edge of sustainability have been using goats as their landscapers for a while, and until now the creative solution has been regarded with amusement and ambivalence.

However, in Michigan, the 400-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has filed a grievance against Western Michigan University claiming that the goats it recently employed are taking away jobs from laid-off union workers.

“AFSCME takes protecting the job of its members very seriously and we have an agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement with Western Michigan,” Dennis Moore, union president, told the Battle Creek Enquirer. “We expect the contract to be followed, and in circumstances where we feel it’s needed, we file a grievance.”

The 20-goat crew was hired by the university to clear about 15 acres of poison ivy and other invasive species over the summer before students return for the fall semester.

“For the second summer in a row, we’ve brought in a goat crew to clear the undergrowth in a woodlot, much of it poison ivy and other vegetation that is a problem for humans to remove,” Cheryl Roland, university spokeswoman, told the Battle Creek Enquirer. “Not wanting to use chemicals, either, we chose the goat solution to stay environmentally friendly.”

AFSCME alleges that the university did not alert the union about its plan to employ the goat crew. While organizations like Google and Yahoo! have adopted the furry lawnmowers, The Washington Post is skeptical if these barnyard animals will ever become a true threat to landscapers’ jobs.

It even went to the trouble of estimating the brush clearing power of a pack of goats versus a landscape worker armed with a tractor and a Bush Hog attachment. After some hasty math, it came to the conclusion that around 347 full-time landscaping would be at risk if the country’s 2.5 million meat and dairy goats also picked up a side job of clearing out invasive species.

This should allay any concerns that goats are going to prove a serious threat to landscaping jobs in the near future. In fact, last year Salem, Oregon, fired its crew of goats after the cost proved too high, along with complaints of the smell, the goats leaving behind a “heavily fertilized area” and their lack of selectiveness when it came to eating plants.

If losing a bid to a goatscaping crew is a concern for your company as cities and other organizations look for environmentally-friendly methods to handle their landscaping, you may need to look at either offering services that can meet that need or keep costs lower than a goat crew charges.

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