Museum workers deserve fair pay 

click to enlarge Eric Mar - COURTESY PHOTO
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  • Eric Mar

The de Young and Legion of Honor museums are crowning jewels of our city.

San Francisco not only provides services such as parks and street maintenance, but also helps fund these gateways to art, community, history and pop culture.

Behind these priceless collections of art and artifacts are hundreds of hard-working men and women who make these exhibits possible and show us new ideas and worlds.

Partnerships are necessary to make art come to life, educate and inspire.

One such partnership is between The City and the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums, a private, local nonprofit.

The City owns the de Young and Legion of Honor museums and most of the art inside. COFAM handles fundraising, membership, the museum stores, art handling and other administrative duties.

COFAM management is negotiating a new labor contract with museum employees, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

It seems from the tenor of these negotiations that COFAM management — which has reportedly spent more than $100,000 on two lawyers to negotiate this contract — is not working toward a fair contract agreement.

In the past months, these highly compensated lawyers have apparently dragged workers through a demoralizing and drawn-out negotiation process since November.

Local 1021 invited me to “walk a day in the shoes” of several workers at the Legion of Honor. The museum workers I shadowed and spoke with are frustrated about the stalled negotiations.

These workers have more than 100 years’ experience combined. They transport, catalog, secure and display the pieces and exhibits we enjoy. Their stories of pride and struggles in their work for the museums made me understand how valuable public and nonprofit workers are to our city.

The museums would quite literally neither open nor function properly without these workers.

Yet the workers have suffered for years under a wage freeze and other cutbacks. Their families are being threatened with health care cost increases that would mean many of the employees would not be able to afford their health insurance.

These folks help make art accessible for everyone, regardless of how much they make. It is wrong that these same employees might not have access to affordable health care for themselves and their families.

It seems that COFAM’s management is not doing this to save money. With profits of more than $19 million over the past two years, the museums are financially successful.

Museum managers have reportedly paid $30,000 for a salary survey that somehow concluded that COFAM managers make too little and their employees, who have some of the lowest wages in the organization, make too much. So managers gave themselves a 2 percent raise!

Given this, I would like to see these workers receive a restoration of decent wages as well as affordable health care.
I have been a member and supporter of the de Young and Legion of Honor for many years now. I especially appreciate their accessible events such as free Friday evenings at the de Young for families.

I also support these workers who design the catalogs, receive art pieces any time of day or night, build displays, work in the museum stores and interact with visitors and patrons.

The de Young is the fourth-most-visited museum in the nation. The Legion of Honor has one of the largest collections of art and artifacts from the ancient world.

The popularity and success of these museums is a testament not just to those in charge and the board of trustees, but the hundreds of workers who labor behind the scenes to ensure that our city’s crown jewels are successful and accessible to the public.

Eric Mar is a member of the Board of Supervisor whose District 1 covers the Richmond, Sea Cliff and Laurel Heights neighborhoods.

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