AFSCME members to rally Saturday at MN History Center

Newly unionized staff members are in bargaining with the MN Historical Society. (photo from MNHS Staff Union Facebook page)

Over a year after winning their union election, workers at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) are ramping up pressure on their bosses to settle a contract that ensures livable wages, job security, and safety and respect at work.

The newly organized members of AFSCME Council 5 have been in bargaining with MNHS since June, crafting an agreement that will cover the nonprofit’s “wall-to-wall” workforce of between 250 and 300 people located across the state, including archivists, tour guides, maintenance workers, administrative staff and more.

That leaves a lot of ground to cover in a first contract, and the two sides have been meeting weekly. But members of the union’s negotiations team say progress has slowed since talks reached the economic phase.

“We handed management our full proposal back in June at our first session, so they’ve had our economic package for months,” said exhibits researcher Ami Naff, a member of the union’s negotiations committee. “We only recently received management’s counter proposal, and they’ve offered us pretty much the bare minimum. It’s pretty disappointing.”

Naff said the employer’s proposals are not competitive across many MNHS workers’ areas of expertise and fail to account for rising costs. Some MNHS union members, she said, struggle with food and housing insecurity, and staff turnover has increased, threatening the mission of the organization.

“People are staying in this work because we know how important it is and because we’re so dedicated to making history accessible,” she said. “Our employer seems to think that’s something that can be taken for granted, which is really sad because we have lost a lot of people in the last few months. Losing that depth of experience really weakens the experience that our visitors have and that our public will have in the future.”

Union members also want paid parental leave, scheduling guarantees for part-time and seasonal workers and wage rates that recognize workers’ service to the organization.

To show their boss they are serious about standing together for the wages and benefits they deserve, union members plan to rally with labor and community supporters Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, beginning at noon – barring a last-minute agreement, of course.

“If management comes back with good proposals and we have a strong contract in place, we could totally be celebrating that day instead of rallying,” Naff said. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be putting urgency behind why we need a fair contract.

“We’re fighting for good lives for all our colleagues, and as for management, we’re having to push them a lot harder than we thought would be needed. It’s pretty reasonable stuff.”

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