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Yellowstone National Park Workers Vote to Unionize

The park's federal workers join a small but growing movement of unionizing throughout the outdoor industry.

Yellowstone,RangerAbove, a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park, where employees have voted to unionize; (photo/Shutterstock)
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America’s first national park now has a labor union.

The employees of Yellowstone National Park voted on July 24 to form a union chapter with the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). By taking a vote during the park’s summer months, organizers ensured a high percentage of employees were available.

The vast majority of workers (80%) voted in favor of unionizing, NFFE announced in a news release. That includes both permanent and seasonal employees across many jobs, including park rangers, educators, researchers, fee collectors, first responders, firefighters, and other staff working for the National Park Service (NPS).

It took several years of organizing for the park’s employees to finally reach this point, officials at the NFFE said.

“Working to protect and preserve Yellowstone for ‘the enjoyment of the people’ is a much more difficult and precarious career than people realize,” the Yellowstone organizing committee said in a statement. “Due to low pay, unmanageable workloads, high rent, a stifling hierarchy, and many other issues, the workforce here is struggling. The resulting high turnover negatively affects the park and the public’s experience of it.”

Roaming buffalo create a traffic jam in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley, where park rangers diligently work to keep traffic moving; (photo/Shutterstock)

A Successful 3-Year Union Campaign

So far, the National Park Service hasn’t responded to GearJunkie’s requests for comment.

However, Yellowstone Chief of Public Affairs Morgan Warthin told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that the park’s managers didn’t oppose the movement.

“Park management doesn’t take a position on the formation of the union,” Warthin said in a statement. “We have supported and helped facilitate the process. Voting for or against a union effort is in the hands of the employees participating.”

With Yellowstone Park employees now unionized, the NFFE will reestablish one of its original units: Federal Local 465. This unit hosted the NFFE National Convention at the Old Faithful Inn dining hall back in 1935, the news release said.

Yellowstone employees established an organizing committee 3 years ago and canvassed for more than 100 signatures, according to the news release. They achieved that despite many logistical hurdles in contacting coworkers spread throughout the country. The employees also faced floods, heavy snow, and subzero temperatures while organizing for the vote.

The national park joins several other public lands where federal workers have joined the NFFE. Those include Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Bighorn National Forest, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and the Helena-Salmon-Challis National Forest.

A Growing Wave of Unionizing

While working in a national park might sound like a dream job to many people, studies show that actual workers aren’t too happy.

In 2022, surveys conducted by Partnership for Public Service found that rangers and park workers were among the least satisfied workers in the federal government. Many feel “unrecognized” in their work, with their satisfaction scoring in the bottom 15% of all government workers, the study said.

At the same time, the vote occurs during a time of increased union activity across the country. That’s true more broadly, as in the strike of Hollywood actors and writers, or the UPS deal with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

But there’s also a larger context of unionizing in the outdoor industry. Two REI stores voted to unionize last year. After a climbing gym in Virginia unionized last year, two more rock gyms have done the same. Ski patrollers in many mountain towns have begun forming unions while facing skyrocketing costs of living.

And with President Joe Biden making pro-union statements as part of his re-election campaign, the trend seems likely to continue.

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