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Yellowstone workers unionize as widespread dissatisfaction persists in the National Park Service

Ilya Katsnelson
Flickr Creative Commons
Park rangers will be among the workers represented by the new union.

News brief: 

Workers at Yellowstone National Park recently voted to unionize in a landslide vote, according to the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). The organization hopes to improve working conditions, pay and general satisfaction within the first national park in the U.S.

The union is a local chapter of the NFFE, and it will represent workers like park rangers, fee collectors, first responders and others. Jaclyn McIlwain, one of the organizers of the effort, said issues like low pay, unmanageable workloads and high staff turnover are pervasive at Yellowstone.

“There's a culture that's somewhat dismissive of our concerns and our problems as employees and community members here,” she said. “These are not necessarily the dream jobs that so many people think they are.”

More than 80 percent of the employees that voted chose to unionize. Workers will not be required to join or pay dues. The goal of organizing is to lobby both locally and in Congress for changes like cost of living adjustments.

“There is just so much opportunity to do better,” McIlwain said. “And have our workers treated with the respect that they deserve and have them valued in the same way that this ecosystem is valued.”

Yellowstone leadership did not take a position on the vote and the park has not responded to the results yet, but organizers say they received support throughout the voting process. There are already several other national unions with a presence in the area, including organizations for electrical workers, machinists, U.S. Forest Service workers and wildland firefighters.

National Park Service workers rank among the least satisfied federal employees, according to a recent survey, and President Joe Biden has been pushing for unionization across the country. McIlwain said people in other parks are already reaching out to ask about unionizing.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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