Mar ignored nonprofit’s overtures to museum workers in contract dispute 

Last week, Supervisor Eric Mar took the curious step of publicly standing with union members who are locked in protracted contract negotiations with what he acknowledged in an opinion piece are two of The City’s “crowning jewels” — the de Young and Legion of Honor museums.

It’s rare for city officials to take sides in contract negotiations in which they have no knowledge of the details, but that didn’t stop Mar. And true to form, his arguments concerning the state of workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021 were lost amid a pile of misinformation and inaccuracy.

Mar stated that the Corporation of Fine Arts Museums, the private nonprofit that manages the two museums, has not been working toward a fair contract agreement. Nothing could be further from the truth. COFAM’s representatives have been working diligently for eight months to reach an agreement with the union, making numerous proposals, without receiving any specific counter-offers.

If museum workers whom Mar allegedly spoke with are frustrated about the stalled negotiations, they have only their union leaders to blame. Indeed, after being kept in the dark about management proposals from their own union leadership, COFAM decided last week to release the actual contract proposal to members since union leaders had not. Predictably, the members were upset with union leaders who have been railing about wage reductions and cuts in medical benefits.

While COFAM representatives can’t publicly discuss details of the contract offer, they can report that unlike Mar’s description of “wage freezes and cutbacks,” the last proposal from COFAM in May provides for wage increases to all employees immediately upon their ratification of an agreement. The proposal also provides for wage increases in all three years of the contract and an enhancement of COFAM’s matching 401(k) plan contributions. In short, COFAM has never proposed cutting anyone’s wages.

Unfortunately, Mar’s reliance on union rhetoric led him to a conclusion that its members need a restoration of “decent wages and affordable health care.” What the union leaders didn’t tell him was that in 2010, when city officials proposed wage cuts for union employees, COFAM went out of its way to reach an agreement with the union that avoided any pay reductions. And the vast majority of Local 1021 do not pay a single penny toward their health benefits or for their families and dependents — their health care coverage is free. In order to find a similar compensation model during these down economic times, one would probably have to move to Sweden.
COFAM has proposed a minor change to that formula — asking for a modest contribution from members to cover the cost of their health insurance premiums, on par with what city employees already pay.

In order to buttress his arguments, Mar wrote that COFAM managers have reportedly spent more than $100,000 on lawyers to negotiate a new contract. What he apparently wasn’t told was that SEIU leaders have spent nearly $1 million for the phalanx of lawyers that represents them in labor negotiations and $2.5 million on lobbying and political activities. Public records also show the union spent more than $160,000 on pizza in 2010-11.

Still, COFAM representatives are heartened that Mar acknowledges the “priceless’’ collections of art at the de Young and the Legion of Honor, as well as education programming for tens of thousands of city residents and others who delight in such offerings as “Friday Nights at the de Young.”

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco has a long history of support for its workers.  COFAM has spent nearly a year trying to reach a contract agreement and it hopes that a few simple facts will make that goal much easier.  

Michele Gutierrez-Canepa is the chief administrative officer of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

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