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Museum workers union pickets at Carnegie Science Center

Members of the United Museum Workers union picket outside the Carnegie Science Center on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Members of the United Museum Workers union picket outside the Carnegie Science Center on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

About two dozen members of the United Museum Workers union came to the Carnegie Science Center this past Saturday. But it wasn’t to take in the Center’s brand-new exhibit, “Mars: The Next Giant Leap.”

Rather, the workers were picketing over their contract talks with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Nearly 500 staffers at the four museums voted to join the United Steelworkers two years ago. But union members said the negotiations, which began in September 2021, have yet to yield a contract they can support.

The biggest issue, workers have said, is their demand for an immediate raise in base pay from $12 to $16 an hour, the amount they consider a living wage in Pittsburgh.

“We all love our jobs, and would like to continue in this career,” said Natalie McClaine, a gallery associate at The Andy Warhol Museum. “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love them. We just want a living wage so it’s more sustainable for everybody.”

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McClaine, like most United Museum Workers members, works part-time. The union also includes curators, scientists, educators, art handlers and grant writers who work at the Science Center, the Warhol, the Carnegie Museum of Art, or the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

“We are committed to bargaining in good faith with the museums,” said Jenise Brown, an educator at the Museum of Natural History and co-chair of the union’s bargaining committee. “We are also committed to a fair contract now, a living wage now, and benefits to part-timers. So that’s what we’re out here talking to people about.”

On Saturday, the picketers stood in frigid weather along Casino Drive, which passes in front of the Center, and at the parking-lot entrance off North Shore Drive, handing out fliers and pro-union stickers to visitors, some of whom promised to wear the stickers inside the Science Center. Others driving past the planned four-hour picket honked their car horns in support.

Base pay at the museums, which was $9 an hour when contract negotiations began, has since been raised twice, to $12 an hour. But Guillermo Perez, a USW organizer who attended the picket, said anything less than $16 an hour is “poverty wages.” The union says nearly three-quarters of the union members make less than $16 an hour, and more than half make less than $14 an hour.

Perez said health care and other benefits are also at issue in contract talks.

In September, the union held a rally at the Carnegie Museum of Art on the opening night of the Carnegie International, the museum’s biggest show of the year. “Mars: The Next Giant Leap,” is likewise the Science Center’s biggest new exhibit in years.

On Saturday, the union’s fliers noted that the Mars exhibit asks how society might think about social-justice issues in light of space exploration, or indeed in some future off-Earth society. The fliers asked, “Is there a living wage on Mars?”

The museum issued this statement: “Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is currently having productive discussions with the United Steelworkers, and we look forward to continuing those discussions as we negotiate a mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreement, which will be our first with the union.” It is the same statement the museum made at the time of the September rally.

The United Museum Workers’ efforts have occurred simultaneously with unionization drives in other nontraditional workplaces, like Amazon and Starbucks. In addition, unionized workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art recently went on strike after working without a contract for two years. The strike lasted three weeks and ended in October when workers ratified a three-year contract.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: