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Utica Zoo workers seek to unionize

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UTICA, N.Y. — Workers at the Utica Zoo recently began organizing to form a union, according to a press release from the Civil Services Employees Association (CSEA).

The group of 26 zookeepers, veterinary technicians, education and ambassador animal specialists, buildings and groundskeepers, administrative specialist, and gift shop employees came together to seek better working conditions and a stronger voice on the job in the wake of staffing and high turnover challenges, the release stated.

“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,” Zookeeper Caleb LaRocca contended. “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.”


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Utica Zoo Deputy Director of Administrative Operations Kyla Jacobs responded to the union-formation effort with the following statement:

“A group of employees at the Utica Zoo has shown interest in forming a union. While not necessarily typical for a small not-for-profit like the zoo, we respect our employees’ right to make a decision about whether they wish to be represented by CSEA,” Jacobs said.

She added that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will conduct a secret-ballot election later this month on the matter. “In the meantime, we continue to focus on what’s best for the animals under our care and the employees who take care of them,” said Jacobs.

Kallen Muste, an educator at the Utica Zoo, said having pathways for negotiations and complaints would help achieve better conditions for employees at the zoo, “We seek a place at the table to deal with staffing issues, poor pay, and discuss the need for better benefits,” he said. “I love this zoo and want to see it be better. I think as employees being able to stand up for ourselves together will help us do just that.”

The group hopes through their negotiations they can work with zoo management to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars, staff, and capital resources to solve the issues they face and to make the zoo a better place to work and visit.

The CSEA represents about 300,000 members that are state, county, municipal, school district, childcare, and private-sector employees.



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