The New Children’s Museum / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
The New Children’s Museum / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post has been updated.

After 36 years in San Diego, and 11 years as the redesigned “New” Children’s Museum in downtown, its employees are organizing. A group filed an official petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, and notified management at the museum. The museum has yet to respond to the group.

“It’s pretty big for their industry,” said Anabel Arauz, the group’s representative at IBEW Local 465, affirming that it would be the first museum group in San Diego to organize as a unit. “Hopefully it creates a domino effect for other museums.”

Of 80 employees at the New Children’s Museum (including management), 48 make up the group of bargaining members so far, Arauz said. She said the group has been meeting underground for the last six months with IBEW, to prepare, plan and solidify their mission, which, according to its website includes: a living wage, no negative visitor impact, career longevity and empowering others in the field.

“As workers, we think, play, create, teach, advocate, adapt, and embody the Museum’s mission,” the group’s online mission statement says. “Our commitment transforms a building and resources into the progressive art space envisioned by early Museum leaders. Because each worker plays an important role in achieving our collective goals, an interdepartmental union is essential to the long-term sustainability and growth of our institution.”

Regardless of how the museum’s management may proceed, Arauz said it’s important for organizing workers to understand potential tactics and know what to expect. Arauz noted that no actions have been taken so far from the museum management.

The museum’s executive director, Judy Forrester, provided the following statement: “We care deeply about our employees and it has always been our goal to provide a positive, rewarding place to work. We were contacted on Friday afternoon that some of our hourly employees may have expressed an interest in collective bargaining. This is all we know at this point.”

This summer, workers at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City organized; the employees, inspired by the #MeToo movement, anonymously shared salaries and job titles on a Google Doc, the New York Times reported. The Guggenheim, along with organizing progress of other East Coast institutions like the Brooklyn Academy of Music inspired the New Children’s Museum employees to begin organizing, Arauz said. “They’ve been in touch with them, for support,” Arauz said of the other unionized museums.

More museum workers organizing illustrates that while union enrollment has declined for decades, there’s an increase in younger, highly educated workers infusing energy into the movement.

Araus said that a myth about unions is that workers only organize if their working environment is dire. Such myths can be detrimental both to management collaboration with the organizing process and also the support for the corporation from the public, she said — in this case, visitors to the museum.

The museum employees are organizing in order to approach better pay equality and have a collective bargaining agreement in place to prevent changes, said Araus.

“You don’t always have to unionize because you hate your job,” she said. “Just like at the museum, they love their jobs. They care a lot about their workplace, and they want to be able to make that workplace a career for themselves, and for future artists, and future employees of the New Children’s Museum.”

Corrections: An earlier version of this post misspelled Anabel Arauz’s name, and misidentified the East Coast group that organizing New Children’s Museum employees have been in touch with. It is the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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