As you’re taking pictures of the lions, and buying elephant ears at the Oregon Zoo this year, don’t forget about those who make it all possible—who happen to be the most neglected—its employees.
Matt Ellison and Anne McDonnell have worked as staff cooks for the past 4 and 7 years respectively. They are currently engaged in the recent unionization of the employees, and they’re bargaining with Metro for basic rights, many take for-granted.
Metro is Portland’s regional government of which the zoo is a service of, as well as the convention center, parks, recreation, and conservation. Metro granted them the unionization quickly, but isn’t very eager to bargain, despite a 3 year wage cut and pay freeze.
Currently, temporary staff get no holiday pay, sick leave, vacation, grievance rights or process, and before you write off temporary workers, most of the staff are just that, and they all have families, rent, and medical bills.
Like the most of his other coworkers Ellison is a temp, and once he reaches his hour cap (1040, that’s just over half a year at 40 hours a week) he’ll be laid off, just as the zoo starts its hiring season, as McDonnell explains: “They’re laying off people who know the job, who’ve been working there for years—for new people. It’s led to chronic short-staffing, low moral, and bad customer service.” These people have to work very hard for a hair above minimum wage, and a lot of them work two jobs, or rely on government assistance. On top of that they have to pay to park there ($6.40 a day), and they don’t get discounts on bus/light-rail tickets, despite the introduction of Metro’s charter and mission: “Clean air and clean water do not stop at city limits or county lines. Neither does the need for jobs, a thriving economy and good transportation choices for people and businesses in our region” (Portland Metro Charter & Mission).
McDonnell presented her case to Metro council and they seemed a bit clueless, ”After my three minute testimony, one of the members of Metro council asked me to clarify about the pay freeze. She asked if I’d been on a pay freeze for three years, and if it was only temporary workers. I said yes, and she thanked me for bringing it to her attention. The zoo is a “service of Metro”, but they didn’t know what their workers were making.” And according to Ellison, “Metro has a history of little to no effort to communicate with temporary employees.” One day someone could come to work, and then be told by their manager that they’re out of hours and have to leave.
It’s remarkably fitting that Metro changed its slogan from People places. Open spaces. To Making a great place. McDonnell remarked, “Apparently they don’t think they need people anymore.” Metro touts itself as bold, progressive leadership, but its actions convey just the opposite.