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Museum union votes to OK strike

originally posted by the SF Gate, 08-06-2012

A picket line could soon become the newest attraction at San Francisco’s two fine arts museums if a contract dispute between some museum employees and management continues.

Workers in the union that represents about 90 employees of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor Museum in Lincoln Park completed voting last week to authorize their two-person bargaining team to call a strike if talks fail.

“We do not want to go on strike, but we will be forced to if management refuses to work with us,” said Larry Bradshaw, vice president of SEIU Local 1021 in a statement.

The museum employs about 500 public and private workers.

Cristal Java, a chief negotiator with the union, said talks with the Corporation of Fine Arts Museums, which runs the museums, have dragged on for nine months. She said workers are angry that the museums have seen an increase of $19.6 million in assets over the past two years while proposing to reduce wages for future hires and raise health care costs.

“They are proposing a health care plan that is more expensive for union workers than highly paid management,” Java said. “It would be one thing if they were struggling, but they’re not struggling.”

Management executives have said that they are not proposing wage cuts for anyone and want museum workers to pay a portion of their health care insurance premiums like city workers. They also dispute the union’s characterization of their finances – a spokesman said the museums “barely broke even last year.”

Even if the union decides to strike, visitors can expect the museum to be “open for business as usual,” spokesman Ken Garcia said.

“It’s unfortunate that the union’s leadership has taken this step in light of what the museum considers an extremely fair and generous contract offer,” said Garcia in a statement. “We think it’s fairly remarkable that this union, or for that matter, any union, would choose to walk away from a double-digit pay raise offer in these harsh and difficult economic times.”

- Neal J. Riley

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