The heightened awareness of the need to clear underbrush and leaves from woods in order to prevent wildfires has led to some tense situations across the East End, as citizens brigades, armed with rakes, have entered woods throughout the area and started collecting leaves and other organic detritus. These well-intentioned crews have found, to their surprise, that their raking activities have been met with fierce resistance from professional, union-represented forest rakers.
“People might not know it, but these are union jobs,” says Markus Blatter, head of the International Brotherhood of Forest Rakers (IBFR) Local 122. “You can’t just walk into the woods and start raking up leaves. The members we represent hold contracts that cover 90% of the forest acreage on the East End.” According to Blatter, not only would amateur forest raking lead to dangerous, fire-prone conditions in local woods, but it would also jeopardize the livelihoods of hundreds of highly trained and experienced union forest rakers on the East End. “These are hardworking leaf removal specialists, trained in Finland. Their expertise is irreplaceable.”
Blatter says that that’s the reason the union took immediate action to curtail the amateur forest raking in progress. “When the staff at the IBFR Local 122 offices became aware of the untrained weekend warriors out there haphazardly clearing, we alerted our members and organized to put an immediate stop to the unauthorized raking.”
Unfortunately, in many instances when the union forest rakers encountered the amateur crews there were skirmishes, often involving rakes. On several occasions, it became necessary to call the police to intervene in the tense confrontations.
“Our officers reported highly volatile standoffs,” says Hamptons Police spokesman Larry Hirsch. “Both sides were thoroughly convinced that they had a right to rake, and our officers had their work cut out for them to defuse the situations.” The irony of the situation is not lost on Hirsch. “You have all these guys who wouldn’t be caught dead clearing leaves from their own lawns, but have a sudden compulsion to rake the woods! Go figure.”
In consultation with forest management authorities in the area, however, the police were able to verify the union claims and the amateur rakers were ordered to cease and desist from clearing the forest floors.