Following a months-long organizing effort, temporary food workers at the Oregon Zoo have voted to join a union.
Earlier today, the Oregon Employment Relations Board released the results of the zoo workers’ union election. The vote in the mail-in election went like this: 61 in favor of representation, with 4 against.
This means the zoo's temporary kitchen and service workers and caterers could soon be part of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 483, which has been organizing behind the scenes at the zoo since earlier this year. Metro, which operates the zoo, has until September 23 to file any objections to the vote. However, if Metro’s stance over the last couple of months is any measure, it should be smooth sailing for the union.
Back in July when Local 483 first filed with the state for union representation, organizers told the Mercury that they expected opposition from Metro—replete with bureaucratic entanglements and foot-dragging. They were wrong.
“The bureaucratic obstacles we outlined did not happen,” says Local 483 representative Megan Hise. “We’re pleasantly surprised, and right now we’re feeling pretty good.”
Hise has reason to feel good. The added zoo temps are expected to grow her union’s Metro membership from 207 employees to about 350 employees. And, Hise says, she doesn’t expect Metro to file an objection. That’s largely because zoo workers have been pleading their case with Metro since the middle of summer. And it looks like Metro has listened.
In July, zoo temps argued for a union in front of Metro’s seven-person elected council. Local 483 reps have also met privately with a handful of councilors and Metro’s human resources department, according to Hise.
The case the workers pleaded was a litany of complaints against the zoo, including that employees’ wages were frozen and the zoo didn’t offer them paid sick leave. As we reported, part-time Metro workers don’t qualify for protection under Portland’s sick leave ordinance. Which, as some zoo employees told us, meant they work sick even while handling zoo goers’ food.
Still, Local 483’s final voter turnout wasn’t as strong as union members might have hoped for.
According to the Oregon Employment Relations Board’s vote tally, the number of zoo temps eligible to vote in this election was 142. Yes, that means over half of the eligible voters didn’t vote. That’s nothing new for America politics perhaps, however back in July union organizer Toby Green told the Mercury 75 percent of eligible employees—then Green estimated them at 149; zoo workers are frequently laid off and rehired—had signed union cards.
Nonetheless zoo food temp and union enthusiast Matt Ellison told the Mercury he was pleased so many of his co-workers mailed in their votes.
“We got a pretty impressive turnout despite the fact it's a by-mail election where people have to supply their own stamps,” says Ellison.
“And,” he added in a deadpan sarcastic tone, “we have a whole bunch of young people [in the workforce] who have never seen an envelope and they still figured out what this strange paper contraption was for.”
Contract bargaining with Metro isn’t expected for a couple of months.