A battle is brewing at Western Michigan University this summer between a group of hungry goats and a labor union.
The 400-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has filed a grievance contending that the work the goats are doing in a wooded lot is taking away jobs from laid-off union workers.
“AFSCME takes protecting the jobs of its members very seriously and we have an agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement with Western Michigan,” said Union President Dennis Moore. “We expect the contract to be followed, and in circumstances where we feel it’s needed, we file a grievance.”
The grievance alleges that the university did not notify the union that it was planning to use goat crews on campus, according to a chief steward report supplied to the Battle Creek Enquirer.
University spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said a small goat crew has been on campus this summer, but not to cut grass.
“For the second summer in a row, we’ve brought in a goat crew to clear undergrowth in a woodlot, much of it poison ivy and other vegetation that is a problem for humans to remove,” Roland said. “Not wanting to use chemicals, either, we chose the goat solution to stay environmentally friendly.
“The area is rife with poison ivy and other invasive species, and our analysis showed the goats to be a sustainable and cost-effective way of removing them,” she added.
The goats were formally introduced to the campus and local community on June 2 in parking lot 51 of the Sindecuse Health Center.
Garrett Fickle and his wife, Gina, the owners of Munchers on Hooves in Coldwater, rent out their four-footed “lawn mowers” to homeowners, commercial property owners and other clients.
WMU used a 10-goat crew for one week last summer as part of a pilot project, which Roland called a success.
The 20-goat crew is expected to clear about 15 acres on the southwest side of Goldsworth pond before students return for the fall semester.
The goats are ahead of schedule, said Nicholas Gooch, a university horticulturist and the project leader.
“It’s definitely not what we hoped would come out of this project,” Gooch said Thursday. “It kind of takes the air out of your sails a little bit.”
Contact Battle Creek Enquirer education reporter Noe Hernandez at 269-966-0684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.