County accused of retaliating against union leader

Dane County Board chairman Patrick Miles raised questions during a meeting of the county’s Personnel and Finance Committee last week about the possibility that county administrators may be retaliating against a union member for raising concerns about the work environment at the county-owned zoo, according to a report from the Wisconsin State Journal. The county’s director of administration said the allegation has “no basis in fact.”

Erik Anderson, a zookeeper at Henry Vilas Zoo, was found to have made minor workplace violations following a series of investigations of his work between July 2021 and last summer. However, in December, county management gave Anderson an eight-day suspension and launched a new investigation into his actions.

Anderson has made several complaints about possible discrimination and a toxic environment at the zoo, which were investigated by a retired judge at the request of the county board.

Miles questioned the timing of the suspension and defended Anderson’s actions in the most recent case, which involves Anderson obtaining a page from a 2018 Association of Zoos and Aquariums report on the Vilas Zoo and then providing it to the retired judge who conducted the zoo investigation.

The county considers the AZA report to be confidential, and county work rules prohibit unauthorized disclosure of confidential records and unauthorized possession of county property.

But a union representative with AFSCME Council 32 said that Anderson obtained the page in question from the AZA itself and has regular access to AZA reports in his role as a zookeeper. The union claims county administrators are retaliating against Anderson for his union advocacy, although some zoo employees allegedly felt Anderson was the one creating the hostile work environment.