Volume 77 / Number 43 | March 26 - April 1, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Villager photo by Maggie Koopmans

Lower East Side Tenement Museum part-time educators, clockwise from top left, H.R. Britton, Lethia Nall, Peter Wong, Max Weissberg, David Zydullis, Steve Flicker, Jes Whittet and Franklin Moreno.

Guides raise union awareness at Tenement Museum fundraiser

By Caroline N. Jackson

Decked out in 19th-century period costumes, part-time educators from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum descended on Chelsea Piers recently to educate attendees of the museum’s annual fundraiser about the museum’s resistance to their efforts to form a union.

Despite some challenges by officials from the sports and entertainment complex, the museum employees continued to hand out fliers regarding their almost yearlong effort to organize. The educators are basically guides who give tours of the museum while garbed in historically accurate clothing.

“It was not really to protest. We were also passing out leaflets encouraging people to donate to the museum,” said Eden Schulz, recording secretary for Local 2112 who has been working with the educators. “We love this museum and want to see it grow and succeed.”

The museum has not fought the part-time workers’ efforts but has insisted since they first approached museum officials with their demands last May, that they go through the National Labor Relations Board. Going through the N.L.R.B. to unionize could take months or even years.

“It is not an ideal situation for a union and it is really kind of shocking that a place like the Tenement Museum would make this decision,” said Schulz.

The Tenement Museum employees would prefer to do a card count of employees who are for the union, which would be tallied by a neutral third party. Schulz said they have the support of a majority of the part-time workers. If they go through the labor board, the lawyers required would be expensive and the process lengthier, according to Schulz.

“There’s really no reason why we should have to go that route,” said Schulz. “Basically, they are telling us that the only way you can have a union is if you go through the most difficult, expensive, longest, most uncertain process.”

The museum has said it won’t oppose any unionization of employees, but has insisted on a hearing with the N.L.R.B. and a secret ballot. Schulz said the part-time educators hope that with the support they have received from the community, local businesses and museum patrons, the museum will decide to go with the quicker method of card counting.

“Right now, we have a lot of momentum going with our campaign. People are raring to go,” said Schulz. “It could happen at any moment. It is a matter of how much pressure it will take to get the museum to do the right thing — and only they know that.”

David Eng, the museum’s vice president of public affairs, said the institution isn’t antiunion.

“We’re not opposed to the union, but the process needs to be open to everyone — the whole staff,” he said. The museum has a staff of 49, with about 30 to 40 part-time educators. Eng said it’s correct that the museum supports the N.L.R.B. process.

The Tenement Museum’s part-time educators make $17 to $24 per hour, make their own schedules and, if they work more than 20 hours per week, qualify for benefits.

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