Karl Bitikofer, a teen STEM learning experience coordinator at the museum, speaks about his experience organizing for his colleagues at the Field Museum. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

DOWNTOWN — More than half of Field Museum employees have signed union authorization cards, organizers said, as they push to formally unionize and bargain for better pay and benefits.

Members of Field Museum Workers United delivered a letter Tuesday to museum President and CEO Julian Siggers. The letter gives a Monday deadline for Siggers to sign the agreement recognizing the union and American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 31 as the workers’ union representatives.

AFSCME Council 13 is the largest union for cultural workers nationwide.

Their primary reasons for wanting to unionize include higher wages, career stability and stable benefits, workers said.

“Julian and his executive team [have said] in all staff emails and in public statements … that they will respect our process and work with us if we choose to form a union … our letter asks Julian to be as good as his word,” said Karl Bitikofer, a teen STEM learning experience coordinator at the museum.

Workers at the Field Museum hold a press conference for an update on their unionization efforts. Staff were supported by local Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) , pictured on the right. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

Emma Turner-Trujillo, an assistant registrar, said in a press conference Tuesday she is one of many staff members who work two jobs in order to pursue a career at the Field Museum.

Turner-Trujillo recalled seeing several colleagues laid off at the height of the pandemic. Seventy-one positions were eliminated and an additional 56 employees were furloughed in June 2020, according to a museum press release at the time.

Many of those who lost their jobs had been with the museum for decades, Turner-Trujillo said.

“The next wave of ruthless layoffs can happen at any time. I’ve seen colleagues in tears and burnt out to the point of leaving museums entirely. We are taking a stand to stop this cycle,” Turner-Trujillo said.

Workers also expressed concerns over alleged “union busting” tactics by the museum administration to deter staff from organizing and signing union authorization cards. That included leadership “hiring an anti-union law firm,” “telling staff they are not eligible for the union” and “holding required staff meetings to discourage union participation,” workers said at the press conference.

Field Museum representatives did not return a request for comment.

Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Alds. Andre Vasquez (40th) and Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) attended the press conference to support the workers.

“A strong majority has already signed their union cards with Field Museum Workers United and they are continuing those conversations every day and collecting more and more cards….that majority is just getting stronger as we go,” said Anders Lindall, director of public affairs for AFSCME Council 31.

Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, speaks in support of a unionization efforts for staff at the Field Museum. Credit: Melody Mercado/Block Club Chicago

If Siggers voluntarily recognizes Field Museum Workers United, union representatives hope to move forward with establishing a neutral third party to verify the signed union authorization cards, organizers said.

If museum leaders do not to recognize the union, the issue would go to a vote through the National Labor Relations Board, Lindall said. A majority vote in favor of the union will certify the union, Lindall said.

But that process will only delay the inevitable, since the majority of employees already support the union, Lindall said.

“If management truly respects our choice, then it is time for them to match words with actions,” Turner-Trujillo said.

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