MN Historical Society staff wins parental leave, longevity pay in first union contract

MNHS workers and supporters rallied for a fair contract at the Minnesota History Center in December 2022.

Union members and the Minnesota Historical Society reached a tentative agreement yesterday on a first contract that would raise wages across the board, provide six weeks of paid parental leave and compensate staff members for their longevity with the organization.

The Historical Society’s 250-plus workers voted overwhelmingly to form their union in November 2021, and the three-year contract – reached in the 40th week of bargaining – would deliver progress on several concerns behind the union drive, AFSCME Local 3173 President Molly Jessup said.

“It was really important for us to be very conscientious of what we were trying to do, keeping our membership’s best interests in mind, making decisions with a high level of integrity and getting the things we needed right,” said Jessup, who works at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.

Parental leave and higher pay were among workers’ top demands. MNHS staff members currently do not have access to paid family leave, and an overwhelming majority of employees are earning wages in the lowest quadrant of the pay scale for their positions, regardless of their tenure with the organization.

New longevity-based pay scales in the tentative agreement, Jessup said, would compensate a “significant portion” of the bargaining unit “for their work ethic and for their institutional knowledge.”

“We’re just tremendously proud of our members for pushing for these things that they really deserve,” she said. “And we are so grateful to our friends and family and community members and employees past and present.”

AFSCME Council 5, which represents over 43,000 public service workers statewide, announced the tentative agreement in a press release today. Executive Director Julie Bleyhl said the contract demonstrates the power of collective bargaining.

“These workers’ hard-fought campaign for a fair and equitable first union contract proves the Union Difference and shows the incredible power of solidarity and direct action while fighting for the dignity and respect that all workers deserve,” Bleyhl said.

MNHS union members staged workplace demonstrations, a public petition drive and rallies throughout the bargaining process to pressure the employer to move closer to workers’ demands. Members also collaborated on a social media campaign, offering up personal stories about why they supported their union’s contract demands.

Over 100 community members turned out for a rally at the History Center in St. Paul last December, but Jessup said support from the local labor community has been critical at every step of their union journey.

Workers at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, who organized a union with AFSCME in 2020, “gave us a lot of encouragement” during the organizing process, she said, while union members from Starbucks, the Teamsters and the newly organized AFSCME unit at the Science Museum of Minnesota joined their contract rally in December.

“Without that community support, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” Jessup said. “And we hope we will be able to pay that forward.”

Workers will take a ratification vote on the tentative agreement in the next three to four weeks, after union leaders hold informational meetings with MNHS workers across the state.

Jessup said she expects union members will find time to celebrate their first contract in the near future, too. Members of the bargaining team briefly shared “happy tears and joy and a lot of gratification” after reaching the tentative agreement yesterday, she said, before several had to hurry off to judge History Day competitions in the area.

“This wasn’t just contract negotiations for us, this was building our local union from the ground up,” Jessup said. “Knowing how much energy and passion and sacrifice have gone into this, both from our members who are here and from some of our colleagues who have moved on from the organization, it’s been very powerful and emotional for us.”


  1. […] “bargaining as usual,” Barger said. But Mia workers had watched as workers at other museums in the Twin Cities and across the country joined together in the wake of the pandemic, creating unions and fighting […]

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