Wanted: Union-made elephant ears


Temporary food service workers at the Oregon Zoo want a union. Laborers Local 483, which represents about 188 other zoo employees, says over 80 percent of the 160 food service employees have signed union authorization cards seeking to join them.

The workers have no beef at all with their front-line managers, said Local 483 spokesperson Megan Hise. It’s the wages and working conditions they’re objecting to. Nearly all are part-time and temporary, limited to 1,040 hours a year (the equivalent of 30 hours a week for nine months of the year). They make minimum wage and have no benefits. They start shifts without knowing when they’ll leave, because they are routinely sent home when sales are slow. They’re not allowed to accept tips — even when customers holding meetings at zoo event spaces pay a “gratuity” charge. And many zoo food service workers are on food stamps and rely on unemployment between layoff and rehire, Hise said.

The Oregon Zoo is managed by Metro, the regional government for the Portland metropolitan area.

Local 483 organizer Toby Green said the union campaign began when a zoo food service worker found out about an internal survey that was aimed at Local 483’s existing members, and filled it out online. Six months later, a 25-member worker committee is ready to proclaim “Zoolidarity” forever — and petition with the Oregon Employment Relations Board to be added to the existing group.

Local 483 has had some success getting benefits for temporary and seasonal workers at the City of Portland.

“We want a chance to do work that we’re proud of,” one zoo food service worker told the Labor Press.


  1. I am looking forward to Metro treating all their employees to full-time living wages with some sick leave days a year. I would be proud to know that my zoo treats its people that way.

  2. My son is an employee of the Oregon Zoo and has been for more than 3 years. To call him or any other long term employee “temporary” is ridiculous. Temporary work is what you did during xmas season till school started up after New Years. What Metro deems acceptable for these workers would certainly not be acceptable for themselves.


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