Museum Workers Vote to Join USW

Hundreds of Pittsburgh-area museum workers won a major victory in December when they voted overwhelmingly to become members of the USW.

Workers across four Carnegie Museums voted by a nearly 4-to-1 margin to become part of a 500-member USW unit called the United Museum Workers. The workers serve as scientists, educators, art handlers, front desk and administrative staff, gift shop clerks and ushers at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum.

“We are thrilled to become members of the strong and diverse labor union whose founding members helped to build the fortune of our museum’s namesake,” said Gabi DiDonna, associate registrar at the Carnegie Museum of Art. “We look forward to having a seat at the table and a voice in the decisions that affect our quality of life both on and off the job.”

Founded by Steel Giant

The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh system was founded in 1895 by steel giant Andrew Carnegie. The system’s workers announced their USW campaign in June with an online rally.

“Our movement began with concerns about transparency and limited career opportunities, but it now has even greater urgency as it has expanded to address furloughs, pay cuts, and safety issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Katie Pirilla, an art handler at the Carnegie Museum of Art. “Workers continued organizing throughout the pandemic and found renewed strength in our fight for a safe museum for employees and the public alike.”

The museum workers join a growing number of white-collar USW members who perform academic and other scholarly work. Two of the museums at the heart of the latest USW organizing campaign sit adjacent to the main branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where about 320 workers across 19 branches voted in August 2019 to join the USW. That group is in the process of bargaining its first contract.

Academic Center

Those institutions are in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, home to the University of Pittsburgh, where thousands of faculty members and graduate students have been engaged in simultaneous, years-long efforts to become USW members despite the university’s relentless and aggressive union-busting campaigns.

“Our group represents a diverse range of departments, duties, interests and ideas, but what all of us need is a seat at the table and a voice in the museum’s decision-making process,” said Ryan Martin, a sales associate in the Carnegie Museum of Art gift shop. “The founder of our museums, Andrew Carnegie, made his fortunes on the backs of thousands of workers who labored for low pay in extremely hazardous conditions. We intend to honor this legacy.”

Safety and Health Issues

Aiyana Kachmarek, gallery attendant at the Andy Warhol Museum, said that the COVID-19 pandemic helped to fuel the organizing effort through the summer and fall of 2020 by bringing to light on-the-job health and safety concerns that some workers may not have considered before.

“Our goal is to build the best, most welcoming and safest museum system for workers and for the people of the Pittsburgh area,” said Chloe Deardorff, program presenter at the Carnegie Science Center. “The best way to do that is through collective action. We look forward to sitting down and bargaining a first contract that helps us to reach those goals.”

DiDonna said that while she and many of her colleagues view working at a prestigious, mission-driven nonprofit organization like a museum as a labor of love, many of the workers struggle to make ends meet.

“What unites us is a dedication to preserving and presenting art, scientific collections, and ideas,” she said. “Prestige doesn’t pay the rent.”

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222