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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Workers At Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago’s Oldest Museum, Are Voting To Unionize

Workers filed a petition Tuesday with the National Labor Relations Board that will trigger an election to form the union. If successful, the union would represent 45 full- and part-time employees.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive.
Facebook/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
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LINCOLN PARK — Workers at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park are hoping to join other Chicago cultural institutions in unionizing for better pay and work conditions.

Employees of the museum at 2430 N. Cannon Drive filed union representation petitions with the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago on Tuesday. This will trigger a union election in the coming weeks in which the employees will vote whether to formally certify a union with AFSCME Council 31.

If certified, the union would represent 45 full- and part-time employees at the Nature Museum and its collections facility in Ravenswood, according to the NLRB filing.

“We’re forming our union because we want to work with our colleagues and leadership to ensure that our institution is always becoming an equitable, inclusive and safe workplace,” said Anabel Hirano, a member of the union organizing committee who is a volunteer and intern coordinator at the Nature Museum. “That can’t happen unless we have an equal say in the decisions that affect us.”

Nineteen employees signed an open letter last week expressing their intent to form a union in order to secure a voice in decision-making processes, better wages and benefits, transparency around pay and advancement and safer working conditions.

“I would like the employees of Chicago’s oldest museum to be able to afford to own a home in the city that we love and serve,” said Jessy Rose Williams, an exhibit fabricator and technician who is also on the organizing committee. “In our union, we can make things better for ourselves and the public.”

Leaders with the Nature Museum did not return requests for comment.

If certified, the Nature Museum’s workers would be the latest in a string of employees of Chicago cultural institutions to unionize under AFSCME.

Workers at the Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Newberry Library have all recently organized under AFSCME, union officials said.

“Cultural work is work, and all work must have dignity,” said Roberta Lynch, AFSCME vice president and Council 31 executive director. “Our union is pleased to help Nature Museum employees and all cultural workers take their rightful seat at the table.”

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, also known as the Chicago Academy of Sciences, was founded in 1857 by a group of nature lovers and amateur scientists who wanted a space to study and share the specimens they collected.

The academy became Chicago’s first public museum when it opened Downtown in 1869. After the first museum building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, the academy established a museum at the Laflin Building in Lincoln Park.

The Nature Museum moved to its current location in 1999 after making a deal with the Park District to transfer its Laflin Building to the Lincoln Park Zoo in exchange for being able to build a museum on Park District property.

The Nature Museum recently increased admissions fees in order to generate more revenue.

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