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Wisconsin museum workers ratify fair contract after several negotiations

Photo Credit: Council 32
Wisconsin museum workers ratify fair contract after several negotiations
By Anna Dang ·

AFSCME Local 526 (Council 32) members who work at the Milwaukee Public Museum have demonstrated the power of persistence in the fight for fair pay, benefits, safety and dignity at work.

Members finally ratified a fair contract with management in December 2022. This is a huge win, coming after members fought hard in tough negotiations from August 2019 through 2020. Read more details about their fight here.

The contract secures a wide range of wins for nearly 100 museum workers. A wage floor of $15 per hour, eight weeks of paid parental leave, continued access to health and dental insurance, restored employer 401(k) contributions and improvements to safety protocols are among the many gains members won.

"We wanted raises that reflected the museum's newfound commitment to equity, which for us meant getting to a living wage,” said Local 526 President Jaclyn Kelly, who has been an educator at the Milwaukee Public Museum for the past 15 years. “At the end of the day, regardless of how much you love your work or how meaningful it is, that does not pay the bills.”

Achieving such an expansive contract came only after members rejected unfair offers from management in the past. Previously, the museum proposed tripling workers’ health insurance deductibles, eliminating cost-of-living adjustments, limiting pay raises to under 1%, according to a 2020 press release from Council 32.

In the face of management’s unreasonable propositions, Local 526 built power through various community actions, from major picket lines to solidarity days.

Kelly said the contract win had ramifications for more than just her workplace. Rather, it was about the national movement to respect cultural workers.

“Museums are here to serve the community, and the vast majority of people in our communities are workers who do not have control of the workplace,” Kelly said. “Being in a union is leaning into that identity as a worker and realizing that that's something that you share with the community you serve. That is an important and powerful thing.”

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