Who do our National Parks really serve: the public or the profit motive?
With the government shutdown, national parks and public lands have been closed throughout the US. But during the holidays, Alcatraz and Muir Woods–two of the most visited parks in the Bay Area–stayed open. The Department of the Interior has decided that national parks must accept the “bargain” if for-profit organizations that operate on their grounds (e.g. gift shops, ferry companies, parking lot managements) want to pay to keep them running. As a result, concession operators at Alcatraz and Muir Woods donated to the National Park Service to fund a skeleton crew of park staff so the parks could stay–barely–open and continue to funnel holiday season profit to their commercial affiliates.
Park rangers have to be present to add legitimacy to this exercise in catering to money-making-interests. But while they’re required to go to work, shutdown regulations still prohibit them from doing any of the things that give their job meaning: no tours, no education programs, no volunteer coordination. Thus rangers who chose public service as a career find themselves instead working for the for-profit motives of outside groups–and they must suffer in silence as visitors laud those companies for “footing the bill”, since they are also prohibited from encouraging a critical analysis of the power dynamics at play. As many have expressed to us, this is deeply demoralizing.
The stated mission of the National Park Service is to preserve and protect national parks for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. But the clear message rangers are receiving today is that the Department of the Interior values the ability of private entities to continue making money over the considerations that motivated the creation of the park service in the first place. Concerns about ecosystem health, visitor experiences, tribal governments’ perspectives, and even safety are all falling by the wayside.
Access to our public lands should not be subject to the whims of for-profit industries. Workers at the National Park Service and other agencies who bear the brunt of this shutdown: know that your frustrations are shared and acknowledged. We encourage you to reach out to your unions and educate yourselves and each other on your rights as workers, and work together to make your collective voices heard.
If you are not already participating in a union, check the Bargaining Unit Status (BUS) code listed on your SF-50, a document you received when you were hired. 7777 means you are eligible to unionize, while 8888 means you are barred by law. Any other number means you already have representation. AFGE is the largest federal employee union; SEIU, NTEU, and IAMAW also represent federal workers. You should always contact union representatives with your personal email or phone while not on the government clock.