Teamsters Local 727 Files Unfair Labor Practice and Grievance Against Chicago Zoological Society Demanding Reinstatement of Furloughed Members

| April 6, 2020

Since the onset of COVID-19 in the United States, many have referred to the Teamster Local 727 members employed by the Chicago Zoological Society at the Brookfield Zoo as hidden heroes. While the media and public have rightfully recognized medical professionals and grocery store employees during this unprecedented time, sometimes those behind the scenes can be forgotten. Workers like the animal keepers, grounds keepers, and maintenance members at the Brookfield Zoo who are behind the scenes day in and day out at one of Chicagoland’s most famous attractions. It is not only a place for children and families to experience wildlife from all over, it is a home for hundreds of animals and Teamsters members—many of whom spend their whole careers there. Unlike humans, the animals at the Brookfield Zoo do not know the difference between a world with or without an international health crisis and their care and maintenance must remain a priority to insure their well-being and safety. This is why on Friday, April 3rd, dozens of Local 727 members were shocked to hear they were being immediately furloughed, with no notice, no compensation and in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“I have met few people more passionate about their work then the members at the Brookfield Zoo. No matter the role, these essential workers do it with passion and pride. Brookfield Zoo has never been just a job—it is a home for animals and workers, alike,” said John Coli Jr, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 727. “When one of Chicago’s most beloved spots unilaterally furloughs dozens of Teamsters workers with no notice or pay, you have to ask yourself if management feels the same way. So many of these members have dedicated their entire careers to taking care of not just the animals at the Brookfield Zoo, but the grounds and the customers. To be put out on the street with no notice and no guarantee to pay their bills is unconscionable.”

On Friday, upon hearing of the news, Teamsters Local immediately filed a grievance against the Zoo, as well as an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations board for the Zoo’s unilateral change and failure to bargain. The Brookfield Zoo has indicated that it has applied for loans under the federal stimulus bill and continues to fundraise. The Union has, sent a comprehensive information request regarding the furloughs and any loans/funding the Zoo may receive, as the employer may have no choice but to reinstate the hardworking Teamsters members to qualify for the money.

Members have reported that the furloughs have placed extra stress and strain on existing Zoo Keepers who now must perform the work of two employees. It also seems that the safety of areas requiring special skill and precise care such as the Zoo’s venomous snakes, reptiles, bears, big cats and hoofstock are being compromised as a result of the furloughs.

“The Union is doing anything and everything we can to think of to get our furloughed Teamsters Local 727 members back to work as soon as possible. Our frontline, essential members keep our communities running. The animal keepers, grounds keepers, custodians, and craftsmen at the Brookfield Zoo play such a special role in the Chicagoland area. Right now, our children can’t leave their homes, and many can’t understand why. When this is all over, I know Brookfield Zoo will be busier than ever. Everyone is making hard choices right now, the Brookfield Zoo made the wrong one. To say I’m disappointed in management is an understatement,” said John Coli Jr.

Teamsters Local 727 will continue to fight for every member to be protected and paid during this time of health and economic uncertainty. Please note that, any bargaining unit employees who was furloughed on Friday employees will have healthcare benefits extended until July 31, 2020. The Trustees of the 727 Benefit Funds may extend coverage further if the pandemic continues. Members with questions about their healthcare benefits should contact the benefit funds office at (773) 685-0340.

The Union will continue to keep members updated as needed during this time of uncertainty.

Members with questions should contact Nick Micaletti at (847) 696-7500.

Nothing in this article should be read as the union’s waiver of any legal argument, position or grievance(s), or as a waiver of any rights, arguments, or defenses under any contract, collective bargaining agreement, or applicable law. The union does not forfeit its right to make any and all supplemental arguments.

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