Teamsters file federal charge over Brookfield Zoo layoffs

Union claims dismissals violate contract; zoo said it retained workers for animal care and other essential needs.

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Titus, left, and Brutus, two 4-year-old African lions, are recent arrivals that can be visited once Brookfield Zoo reopens.

Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

Teamsters Local 727 said Monday it has filed a charge of unfair labor practices against Brookfield Zoo after it laid off about 60 employees.

The union said the workers, including some groundskeepers and animal keepers, were furloughed Friday with no notice and no compensation in violation of the contract. The zoo said it consulted with its labor attorneys to ensure its action complied with the collective bargaining agreement.

The zoo promised the workers they could return once visitors are allowed back. It is closed by state order to combat the coronavirus.

The Chicago Zoological Society, which runs Brookfield Zoo, said it also laid off some nonunion personnel to cope with “unprecedented and unanticipated” financial pressure. It declined to say how many workers were laid off in total. The union said about 90 of its members continue to work at the zoo.

In choosing workers to dismiss, the society said it “prioritized retaining those critically essential employees needed for basic operations to ensure the continued care and welfare of the animals, protection of the buildings and grounds, and other vital support systems and functions.”

The layoffs are adding to the stress and threatening the safety of the remaining zookeepers, who are now doing double the work, Local 727 said. It filed its complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which could order that the workers be reinstated with back pay.

“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,” said John Coli Jr., the local’s secretary-treasurer.

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