Local 1559 Members Win Promotions and Pay Hike at American Museum of Natural History

Principal Preparator Celeste Carballo applies her fine arts skills to make AMNH T. rex: The Ultimate Predator model. The union helped her get a promotion and pay raise. Photo: AMNH / R. Mickens

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

DC 37 resolved pay disputes and retention issues for three members of Local 1559 after the management of the American Museum of Natural History agreed to promote the Preparators and pay them $27,000 collectively.

As a result of a series of labor management meetings, the museum promoted one Preparator to Sr. Principal Preparator and raised his salary by $6,000, while two other Preparators were promoted to Principal Preparators and received salary increases of $12,000 and $9,000.

“These members love their jobs but with starting salaries of just $34,800 a year for Preparators, the museum pays far less than the industry standard,” said DC 37 White Collar Division Council Rep Amena Black.

Sr. Principal Preparator Jake Adams builds a model for the AMNH new exhibition He won a promotion and salary hike thru the union.

Senior Preparator Jason Brougham helped organize the group and even penned a letter to a sympathetic museum board member outlining the workers’ concerns.

“The letter persuaded the board member to urge management to address AMNH’s retention and pay issues,” Black said.

Retention is an ongoing issue for New York City museums. AMNH Preparator Hannah Rawe recently left for a better paying job. In her resignation memo she wrote, “After paying rent I have less than $600 left a month to live on.”

Now a professor of Model Making at FIT, Rawe added, “It’s absurd that the compensation for such skilled niche labor is so low, especially in New York City.”

Last August, Local 1503 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Met Breuer and the Cloisters resolved longstanding retention issues for licensed heating and ventilation workers with an unprecedented 63 percent wage hike.

Preparators are critical to museums. These artists construct detailed scale models, fabricate, sculpt and cast molds and paint scenery for exhibits that bring to life some of the world’s greatest science and archeological discoveries. Their work draws tens of thousands of visitors to the cultural institution every week.

Most Preparators have advanced fine art degrees and multiple skill sets that including carpentry and welding. They can earn as much as $100 an hour freelance for their in-demand talents. Many Preparators freelanced for AMNH for years before being hired permanently.

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