Milwaukee, WI - On March 7, management of the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) announced layoffs an cuts to hours for 14 members of AFSCME Local 526, which is 8% of the workforce. After six months of negotiations and two quick months after contract ratification, these hard-working men and women found out with zero warning that their position at the museum will either be cut or working hours permanently reduced. Those who are facing reduced hours will lose their health benefits and livable wages to support their families.
There had been no discussion from MPM management during the bargaining process about possible layoffs. The workers at the MPM are still reeling from a 40% reduction to staff from 12 years ago. This news broke weeks after winning a grievance about outsourcing bargaining unit work.
This is a clear union-busting tactic in a long history of management retaliating against union leaders for union activity at MPM. The union is facing five out of six of its executive board members being affected by their decision. The current vice president and former president are both facing indefinite layoff, while another previous president was fired after being unfairly targeted by MPM management.
In the post-Act 10 and right to work era in Wisconsin, AFSCME Local 526 has proven that shop floor struggle and union militancy is a winning formula for contract victories and dense union membership. The company has stated that they will not be outsourcing work but that it simply will not get done, admitting that the world renowned and often copied museum exhibits will deteriorate.
In response to the unexpected layoff announcement, the union called for an emergency picket the next night to fight back against the cuts. The MPM taxidermist Wendy Christensen had this to say: “I have dedicated my entire life to MPM I’ve been there since I was 18. I’ve been here 34 years. For me this isn’t a job it’s my passion. I have been trained by my predecessors who are very talented artists; they've passed on their skills and knowledge over the years. Now there will be no one to pass on those skills. I had hoped to stay and train the next generation.”
The union is calling on the Milwaukee County Board, who owns the millions of artifacts, and the building itself, to consider the impact of these layoffs. The union says the layoffs will greatly damage the invaluable exhibits, collections, programming and prestige of the famed natural history museum.