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Philadelphia Zoo workers united to win a historic new contract.

Philadelphia Zoo workers united to win a historic new contract.
By Pete Levine ·

Their jobs vary from primate keepers to ungulate keepers; from locksmiths to painters to HVAC technicians and more.  

But no matter what job the workers at The Philadelphia Zoo do, the members of AFSCME Local 752 (DC 47) never quit on their community – in this case, that means both the human patrons of The Philadelphia Zoo and the animals in their care. 

This July, they stood in solidarity to bring home a contract that comes with real wage increases, better work-life balance, paid parental leave and more. 

“This was a big negotiation for us,” said Ellie Caruso, a carnivore/ungulate keeper (i.e., a hoofed animal) and president of Local 752. “It was not always easy and it was certainly stressful at times, but in the end, I am so very pleased to see that 91% of our membership was happy with what we were able to win.  

“More importantly,” added Caruso, “our membership really pulled together in solidarity and communicated and supported each other through the entire process. It was a great feeling to see so many people unify to win a strong contract.” 

Wage increases start at 3.5% for 2023 (with even higher wage increases for tradespeople) and include 4.5% increases for both 2024 and 2025.  

For Cheryl Thome, greater job security and scheduling gains were reasons to celebrate. 

“With so many changes within the Animal Department in the last couple of years,” said Thome, “I am so glad that the union negotiating team was able to secure both our positions and our weekend schedule in this contract. That means a lot to a mom of four kids.” 

Meanwhile, Chris Oberlin, who works at the zoo’s facilities department, credited solidarity and preparedness with the historic contract. 

"The union team was tirelessly on time and fully prepared to negotiate at each session (unlike their counterparts) and came out of it with the largest wage percentage increase we've received in at least three contracts,” Oberlin said.  

For Sarah Bierly, a primate keeper, the united front demonstrated by her fellow AFSCME members brought long sought-after changes. 

“This contract shows that management heard our concerns and was finally willing to truly negotiate, particularly regarding safety and work-life balance,” said Bierly. 

The victory for Philadelphia Zoo workers mirrors those of their fellow AFSCME cultural workers. Those victories trace their roots to the union difference, which means having a voice on the job, better pay, better health care, a more secure retirement, and much more. 

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