After 18 months of negotiations, Carnegie Museums workers have ratified a contract with Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. The United Museum Workers union secured an increase in the minimum base wage and gained other benefits, such as health insurance and more paid sick leave.
Many museum employees, particularly those who work part time, made well below a living wage 18 months ago, with the minimum base wage at $8.50 an hour before rising to $12. The new contract secures a $16-an-hour minimum, with increases across the board for all employees.
“This contract demonstrates what’s possible when workers organize and bargain collectively,” Janise Brown, a part-time educator at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and a member of the bargaining committee, said in a statement.
The United Museum Workers — comprising about 530 curators, educators, scientists and other employees and supported by the United Steelworkers — work at four Pittsburgh museums: Carnegie museums of art and natural history, The Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Science Center. A nine-person bargaining committee was tasked with uniting the various types of museum workers.
“We made decisions based on consensus,” said Jim Kappas, a member of the bargaining committee. “We did our best to represent all of those opinions.”
They reached a tentative agreement last week. The union voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of ratification, according to the news release, ending months of labor strife.
“This is a fair, forward-looking agreement that benefits not only staff who are represented by the union but the entire Carnegie Museums community,” Steven Knapp, president and CEO of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, said in a statement.
In addition to increased wages, the contract ensures breaks during the day for employees like gallery associates, who work long hours standing up. Employees working seven or more hours in a shift will now have two paid breaks of up to 15 minutes as well as a 30-minute unpaid lunch break.
The agreement also provides protection against discriminatory practices, an expedited grievance system to enforce the contract, and seniority language.
“It’s an involved process, and it takes a lot of back-and-forth,” said Kappas, who works in visitor services at the Science Center. “At the end of the day, it’s worth it.”
As a first contract, rather than a renegotiation, bargaining was more extensive.
“You’re building everything from the ground up,” Kappas said. “You start with a blank canvas.”
Workers never went on strike, though, and only missed work due to COVID-19 closings. Kappas hopes that the Museum Workers union serves as inspiration for other nonprofit workers, who are not traditionally members of labor unions.
“The historic nature of the name on our buildings is not lost on us,” he said. “We’re happy to move forward and flourish.”
Harrison, a rising senior at Denison University, is a Union Progress summer intern. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.