Field Museum employees seeking to unionize ask head of museum for recognition

Field Museum employees seeking to unionize delivered a letter to the head of the museum Tuesday asking for voluntary recognition of their union.

A majority of the 330 employees who work in positions that would make up the proposed union have signed on to form a union, labor organizers said outside the museum Tuesday.

The letter asked for a response from museum CEO Julian Siggers by Monday.

There was no immediate comment from the museum.

The union would be titled Field Museum Workers United and affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Museum workers are seeking better job protections, pay and clear paths for advancement.

A voluntary recognition by Siggers would expedite their path to the bargaining table. If they don’t receive his cooperation, employees plan to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

"We are standing together in one voice and saying that we want to form our union," said Karl Bitikofer, a museum employee who sets up programs for teenagers to experience what it’s like to be a scientist.


"We believe that forming a union is the best way to make our institution better."

Among the largest institutions for natural history in the world, the museum was founded in 1894 and counts more than 40 million artifacts and specimens.

The letter delivered Tuesday read, in part, "Since our campaign to form FMWU became public last month, you and the rest of the Executive Team have repeatedly promised to respect our decision whether or not to form a union. Now that a majority of staff has indicated that we wish to exercise our right to collective bargaining, we hope that you will grant us recognition."

The union would represent a range of employees, including front-line workers, scientists and skilled laborers who work on exhibitions.

The effort to unionize follows campaigns among employees at the Art Institute of Chicago and its school and the Newberry Library to unionize under the AFSCME umbrella.

Known mostly for representing government employees, AFSCME said it also represents 10,000 museum workers and 25,000 library workers at public and private organizations.