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Wisconsin Museum Workers Reject Bad Contract, Demand a Fair Deal

Photos: AFSCME Council 32
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Wisconsin Museum Workers Reject Bad Contract, Demand a Fair Deal

About 100 members of AFSCME Local 526 (Council 32) employed at the Milwaukee Public Museum are demanding a fair contract that respects them and the work they do.

Refusing to bow down to management’s unfair demands, they’ve rejected unfair offers from the museum. They are fighting management’s proposals that would, among other things, triple workers’ health insurance deductibles, eliminate cost-of-living adjustments, provide pay raises of under 1%, according to Local 526 President Jaclyn Kelly and a Council 32 press release.

Local 526 members have been negotiating with the museum since August 2019 and have been working since Jan. 1 of this year without a contract. They seek a fair agreement that provides livable wages, affordable health insurance and paid parental leave for all museum workers.

To keep the process moving, the two sides have agreed to begin mediation on Feb. 10, Kelly said.

“We love working at MPM and serving the community, but at the same time, you can't eat prestige,” Kelly wrote in an email to AFSCME Now. “The Local 526 membership has spoken with one voice: our households simply cannot afford these drastic cuts. … We have a proud tradition of providing a world-class museum experience right here in Milwaukee. We compete locally and nationally for great staff to make that happen, and these proposals won't attract and retain those people.”

On Jan. 18, Local 526 members, elected officials and other supporters held an informational picket outside the museum to protest management’s contract offers.

“Revenue is up, donations are up. It's time for museum administration to invest in us because we're fed up,” said Local 526 Vice President Jacob Flom, according to Fight Back News.

“What's outrageous? Poverty wages!” the workers shouted as they picketed with signs that demanded livable wages, according to the article.

The Wisconsin workers are the latest museum employees to square off against management in their bid for dignity, fair compensation and other worker-focused concerns. Last year, workers at two Los Angeles museums sought to unionize through AFSCME District Council 36.

The Museum of Contemporary Art voluntarily agreed to recognize the union based on signed cards from more than 120 workers, precluding workers from having to hold an election. Workers at the Marciano Art Foundation, a private museum, are fighting to get their jobs back after they were unfairly fired for seeking to form a union.

Museum workers are “having a moment” as they set a national trend in which low-paid workers in art museums, nonprofits and cultural institutions stand up to management and seek union rights, the American Prospect reports. And a big reason for that? Poor pay for these highly educated workers – which is the case at the Milwaukee Public Museum.