Minnesota News

Minnesota Historical Society employees rally as contract talks continue

Man and woman hold cardboard signs
Sean Kleinjung and Jennifer Kleinjung, a former MNHS employee, hold signs as they join a rally by AFSCME Local 3173 members in St. Paul on Saturday. The workers are seeking better wages and clarity about working conditions.
Todd Melby | MPR News

Employees at the Minnesota Historical Society rallied Saturday in St. Paul as negotiations continue for an initial union contract.

The workers formed AFSCME Local 3173 last year, but have yet to reach an agreement with the MNHS.

Some at the rally said they voted to join the union because they were frustrated with attempts to get management to listen to concerns.

“I knew the only way to get something done was to get a big group together and have a much louder voice that they would have to listen to,” said Teresa Tjepkes, who is a newspaper digitization assistant in the Library and Archives Department at the Minnesota Historical Society.

The union says their wages trail national and metro area averages and have not kept up with inflation. That includes librarians with advanced degrees.

“They are sacrificing by working at this institution because they believe in the mission. They believe in helping people with their research, looking into their family history, that type of thing, but they could make more money by moving over to the St. Paul library system, Hennepin County library system, they are sacrificing wages to work here,” said Colin Dunn, a reference technician at the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota History Center.

In a post on its website, the Minnesota Historical Society called the negotiation nuanced because of the complexity of the workforce.

CEO Kent Whitworth says management and the union have made "significant progress" on several issues since contract negotiations began in June, but declined to give specifics.

“While we support our employees and the union’s right to free speech, we want to ensure everyone who has questions has access to accurate information,” he said in a statement. “MNHS respects the collective bargaining process and on principle, we will not discuss the specific details of negotiations, including tentative agreements until we have reached a full agreement on the contract with AFSCME Local 3173.”

The union includes about 250 Historical Society workers statewide, including tour guides, archivists and maintenance employees.