Field Museum declines to recognize employee union before a vote

Leaders of the union effort say most of the 330 workers it would represent have signed on, but museum officials want to see it put to a vote.

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The main hall of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago

Field Museum employees want to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Sun-Times file

The Field Museum will not voluntarily sign off on an effort by employees to form a union, museum officials announced Friday.

The denial comes three days after workers delivered a letter to museum CEO Julian Siggers asking for union recognition. Leaders of the union effort said they have the support of a majority of the 330 employees whose jobs would fall under collective bargaining.

“Every eligible employee should have the opportunity to participate in an election, and so we are declining to voluntarily recognize the union,” the Field Museum said in a statement.

“Working directly with employees, we have accomplished a great deal, including increased wages, inflation-related payments and investments in DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] initiatives, even as we battled the pandemic. We want to include all colleagues — every voice — in a decision about unionization.”

Leaders of the union effort said they saw voluntary recognition as an expedited path to the collective bargaining table.

Union leaders now plan to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

Museum workers are seeking better job protections, pay and clear paths for advancement.

“We’re disappointed, but not surprised, that management has refused to recognize our co-workers’ majority support for our union, Field Museum Workers United,” the union’s organizing committee said in a statement.

“Management also refused to drop its anti-union campaign that is wasting time and money interfering with our right to organize. We are forming our union because we love the Field Museum, because our labor makes the museum happen, and because we deserve an equal voice in the decisions that affect us.”

The union would be titled Field Museum Workers United and affiliate with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

It would represent a range of employees, including frontline workers, scientists and skilled laborers who work on exhibitions.

Known mostly for representing government employees, AFSCME said it also represents 10,000 museum workers and 25,000 library workers at public and private organizations.

The effort to unionize follows campaigns among employees at the Art Institute of Chicago and its school and the Newberry Library to unionize under the AFSCME umbrella.

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