Union files grievance because goats - yes, goats - work better and cheaper than its members

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Thursday July 13th, 2017

It would be baaaaaaaaaad if youze didn't join the union.

This is a story about my alma mater, where I spent four-plus years in the mid-1980s and saw a lot of things. None of those things involved goats eating grass, which you'd more expect if you attended Michigan State. (Probably a joke the plays better locally, I'll admit.)

But WMU, perhaps inspired by its outstanding 2016 football seasons, is looking for ways to excel in other areas of university life and has apparently discovered that goats are quite excellent performers when it comes to dealing with overgrown grass and vegetation. Not only do they do the job with considerable enthusiasm, but you don't even have to pay them since all they want is something to eat anyway.

It's a nice arrangement. The goats don't complain. They don't go on strike. They don't miss work days. And they even fertilize the grass in a manner we might describe as, er . . . natural. Anyway, what's not to love? Well, when a job is being done well by dedicated workers, and costs are being kept to a reasonable level, you can be sure this won't make the local union happy, and AFSCME Local 1668 didn't disappoint:

After a half-acre trial run in 2016, Western Michigan University hired a team of goats this summer to clear 15 woodland acres on campus.

Goats consume three to five pounds of vegetation per day, according to rental company Munchers on Hooves LLC, and they leave behind natural fertilizer.

But the natural mowers have not impressed everyone. 

A statement written in a newsletter indicates a grievance was filed relating to the to subcontracting and the use of goats.

WMU Horticulturist Nicholas Gooch said the language provided to him came from the July 17, 2017, Chief Steward Report newsletter, written by Kathi Babbit, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 1668 chief steward.

"I also filed a grievance as it relates to subcontracting and the use of goats which was not reported to the Local and again, we have people on layoff," a copy of the newsletter Gooch provided to the Kalamazoo Gazette reads. 

If overpriced unionized employees (but I repeat myself) are no longer being paid, but the job is still getting done and in a satisfactory manner by someone who is better and cheaper, that is not something you file a grievance over. That's something you throw a party over. And it really doesn't matter if the better mower walks on feet or hooves as long as the grass looks good at the end and the budget is under control.

As usual, unions create their own problem here.

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Work that needs to be done is worth only so much in labor costs to the party that needs the work done. If the union members were able to perform the work at a cost that's commensurate with the benefit the university receives for it, then it would probably make more sense for the university to have the humans cut the grass. They would do so with more precision, clean up after themselves better, and so forth.

But when you insist on receiving compensation that is way out of line with the value you provide, your employer will look for other options. What unions try to do is deny the employer the right to explore those other options, and in Michigan they have traditionally found allies in the form of politicians who will tilt the scales in the unions' favor - making it hard for employers to switch to more affordable people, er . . . beasts, as the case may be.

That has changed in recent years as Michigan surprised everyone by becoming a right-to-work state. Most didn't see the home of the UAW taking that step, but to the tell the truth, our experience as home of the UAW is the very reason we understood that we needed to.

But maybe the union can turn this into a win and convince the goats to organize. The usual tactic of showing up at their homes with cards for them to sign, while very large men stand behind you and pound fists into open palms, may not be the way to go here. But the goats are getting the job done, so it looks like the goats are in. Maybe the union could encourage its members to do a better job at a more reasonable cost, so that the university wouldn't need the goats.

And maybe pigs will fly too.

Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!