Acton Institute Powerblog

When a labor union gets upset about job-stealing goats

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While the rest of nation continues to fret about various threats to labor demand — whether from technology, trade, or immigration — an influential labor union is worrying about goats.

Yes, goats.

In a surreal set of circumstances that seems closer to Bastiatian satire than actual reality, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has filed a grievance against Western Michigan University for hiring a herd of goats to clear undergrowth on campus land.

From the Battle Creek Enquirer:

“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.

The University responded with a reasonable explanation, noting how the goats were chosen as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution:

“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,” [University spokeswoman] 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.

As the university’s horticulturist hilariously concludes: “The goats are ahead of schedule.”

In Bastiat’s aforementioned satire, a group of candlestick makers and manufacturers petition the French Parliament to protect them from the “ruinous competition” of the sun — “a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price.”

These goats don’t work for free, but Bastiat’s snarky rebuttal is nevertheless fit for the occasion. To be clear, this was not written by the AFSCME:

If the fact that a product is half free of charge leads you to exclude it from competition, how can its being totally free of charge induce you to admit it into competition? Either you are not consistent, or you should, after excluding what is half free of charge as harmful to our domestic industry, exclude what is totally gratuitous with all the more reason and with twice the zeal.

Make your choice, but be logical; for as long as you ban, as you do, foreign coal, iron, wheat, and textiles, in proportion as their price approaches zero, how inconsistent it would be to admit the light of the sun, whose price is zero all day long!

In a normal world, it would be silly or unnecessary to say so, but if a small herd of goats is your biggest threat to job security, it might be time for self-reflection instead of self-indignation.

Photo: Nick Gooch/courtesy of Western Michigan University

The Law

The Law

The Law was originally published in French in 1850 by Frederic Bastiat and  is the work for which Bastiat is most famous. This translation to American English is from 1874.


Associated Links

  • Trade unions in the United States
  • Goat
  • Battle Creek Enquirer
  • Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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