Utica Zoo workers vote to join CSEA

UTICA — Seeking better working conditions and a stronger voice on the job, workers at the Utica Zoo recently voted overwhelmingly to form a union at their workplace with CSEA.

The group of zookeepers, veterinary technicians, education specialists, groundskeepers and gift shop employees have been dissatisfied over staffing and high turnover, leading employees coming together to form a union.

Utica Zoo worker Caleb LaRocca, a member of the zoo workers’ organizing committee, speaks about the importance of organizing to make the zoo a better place to work and visit.

Zookeeper Caleb LaRocca, a member of the organizing committee, knew that workers at the Buffalo and Syracuse Zoos have unions with CSEA and thought, ‘Why not the Utica Zoo, too?’

“A union is the best way for employees to stand together, to make our voices heard by administration and to ensure that our labor, experience, and health are valued appropriately,” said LaRocca. “The staff here are fantastic and deserve to be treated fairly, and when the workplace fails at that, great people end up choosing to leave the zoo and the zoo suffers.”

Garrett Buck, a zookeeper and member of the organizing committee, worked at a unionized zoo in California before coming to Utica in February. Having familiarity with the way a union can work with management to enact positive change, he knew the only way to solve some of the issues facing the Utica Zoo was by coming together and unionizing.

“We are not being heard through the traditional channels, so we are building our union to make our voice stronger,” said Buck. “I believe having a union will lead to greater worker retention and improved animal care in the long run.”

During the organizing campaign, the Utica Zoo workers received strong community support. At a Utica City Common Council meeting in early October, council members voted unanimously on a resolution urging the zoo to give the workers voluntary union recognition.

Although zoo management didn’t grant voluntary recognition, the support from the community was comforting to the Utica Zoo workers before the National Labor Relations Board election in late October.

CSEA Central Region officers and staff, including Central Region President Kenny Greenleaf, second row, far left, and Utica Teachers’ Assocation members join the Utica Zoo workers in solidarity at a Utica Common Council meeting.

“We’re happy to have won our election and have the support of the Utica community and its leaders,” said Kallen Muste, a zoo educator. “I’m incredibly proud of the staff here and everything we have accomplished. I’m looking forward to working together with management to get this amazing team what it needs to make the Utica Zoo the best it can be.”

CSEA Central Region President Kenny Greenleaf said he was honored to welcome Utica Zoo workers to our union family.

“We are excited that these workers chose to organize with us to form a collective voice to enact positive change at their workplace,” said Greenleaf. “We look forward to helping them secure a great first contract and improve their working conditions.”

— Nicholas Newcomb


Above, Utica Zoo workers celebrate after voting overwhelmingly to form a union with CSEA.


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