May 29, 2024

Macon County conservation workers join AFSCME

The 20 employees of the Macon County Conservation District protect Macon County’s precious natural areas. Now they have a union to protect themselves.

The new AFSCME members at the district officially formed their union in April. They are responsible for 3,500 acres of parks and public natural areas. They’re natural resources managers and technicians, historical site managers, naturalists and volunteer coordinators, among others. They will join AFSCME Local 268, which represents employees in the city of Decatur.

They mostly spend their workdays maintaining hiking trails, restoring prairies to their native glory, managing the vast woodland preserves, planning community events and looking after the various historical sites on their grounds.

Gage Elder is a site superintendent who played a big role in the organizing effort.

Elder said since starting his job 10 years ago, he’s gotten married and had three children. As a lifelong outdoorsman, he had every intention of spending his career at the Conservation District, but was forced to rethink his future there based on the treatment he and his coworkers received at the hands of new management. The idea to form a union came when that management made it clear they wouldn’t hesitate to fire employees for any infraction, no matter how small.

“Morale kept going further and further downhill,” Elder said. “We had people who were starting to leave because of how we were being treated. It’s a real slap in the face to be told anything you do doesn’t matter.”

Now, with a union to protect them, they’re eager to begin bargaining a first contract so they can establish stronger job protections and equitable pay increases for all employees.

“We’re going to have a voice and a say in how things happen and just make the workplace better for everyone,” Elder said. “Everyone deserves to go to a job they enjoy, to not feel like they’re going to be let go for no reason, and to get paid a fair wage. The union will help us get there.”

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