By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Local 1501 cleared a career path for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s lowest paid workers when it settled a grievance that creates 11 Unit Manager jobs and curtails the WCS’s extended use of nonunion seasonal staff.
“For too long the WCS has scheduled seasonal employees to work four, eight and even 12 months a year for minimum wage with no benefits,” said Local 1501 President Raul Domenech. “I’ve seen this go on for years in violation of our contract. We filed a grievance to make things better for those nonunion workers.”
In 2020, as WCS gradually reopened the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the New York Aquarium, and other locations during the COVID-19 pandemic, WCS assigned nonunion seasonal workers extended schedules, with no change to their wages or benefits. WCS hires seasonals from local high schools and surrounding communities to fill job titles Local 1501 represents. They work during the busy season, usually Feb. 1 until Nov. 1.
Since the pandemic, many WCS seasonals — part of the City’s essential workforce—are working year round at admissions, maintenance, restaurants, and concession stands. With other Local 1501 members, they make sure the WCS habitats and attractions are clean and run smoothly for millions of visitors each year. WCS sites offer open-air solace and let New Yorkers connect with nature during the long pandemic lockdown.
Local 1501 and WCS resolved the grievance in March 2020, but due to the pandemic, WCS delayed hiring the Unit Managers until May 2021.
‘WCS agreed to create 11 new positions and hire from within based on experience and seniority,” Domenech said. WCS hired several, longtime seasonal workers full time as unionized Unit Managers, with an annual salary of $40,000 plus benefits and city pensions. Council Rep Marcy Wartell-Brown said the Bronx Zoo hired four new managers at admissions and three at the zoo’s restaurants; the Central Park Zoo restaurants hired two managers, and the New York Aquarium hired two new managers.
“This is a real victory,” Domenech said. “Now, for the first time, WCS seasonals have an opportunity for full-time employment as union members. This grievance has a terrific outcome that creates jobs during an economic downturn in New York City. These newest Local 1501 members have a chance to do better for themselves and their families.”