The very existence of government employees’ unions is problematic at best but at times it becomes downright ridiculous. At Western Michigan University, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has filed a grievance against a herd of goats being used on campus to clear a wooded lot of undergrowth and poison ivy.

The 400-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has filed a grievance contending that the work the goats are doing in a wooded lot is taking away jobs from laid-off union workers.

“AFSCME takes protecting the jobs of its members very seriously and we have an agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement with Western Michigan,” said Union President Dennis Moore. “We expect the contract to be followed, and in circumstances where we feel it’s needed, we file a grievance.”

Complaining that your job is being done by a goat isn’t really something you can take “very seriously.”

The grievance alleges that the university did not notify the union that it was planning to use goat crews on campus, according to a chief steward report supplied to the Battle Creek Enquirer.

University spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said a small goat crew has been on campus this summer, but not to cut grass.

“For the second summer in a row, we’ve brought in a goat crew to clear undergrowth in a woodlot, much of it poison ivy and other vegetation that is a problem for humans to remove,” Roland said. “Not wanting to use chemicals, either, we chose the goat solution to stay environmentally friendly.

Goats eat virtually anything so poison ivy presents no problem for them. They don’t require lunch breaks because their whole job is eating lunch.

WMU used a 10-goat crew for one week last summer as part of a pilot project, which Roland called a success.

The 20-goat crew is expected to clear about 15 acres on the southwest side of Goldsworth pond before students return for the fall semester.

The goats are ahead of schedule, said Nicholas Gooch, a university horticulturist and the project leader.

You can be reasonably sure that “ahead of schedule” isn’t something they’d be saying about the job if it were being done by public employees. The goats probably don’t ask for overtime either.