Minnesota Historical Society employees seek higher wages as civil servants face shortages

Employees at the Minnesota Historical Society plan to rally Saturday for better pay and benefits at the largely state-funded organization, where staffing levels remain below pre-pandemic levels despite this year’s recovery.

The Historical Society, one of the largest governmental organizations of its kind in the country, laid off more than a third of its employees early in the COVID-19 pandemic and has recently faced higher turnover. It manages 26 museums and historic sites, from the Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore to historic Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities.

Some employees say stagnant wages are the main reason for the retention issues at the St. Paul-based nonprofit.

“Right now it feels like every week someone files their notification with the Historical Society,” said Molly Jessup, program specialist at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis. “You can’t afford to work here.”

The Historical Society’s CEO, Kent Whitworth, said in a statement on Friday that the organization increased all salaries by 3% in September, after a 3% increase in 2021, and “is committed to a better-paid workforce.” to have”.

“The salary increase supports our strategic initiative to create a sustainable future by investing in our human resources,” he said.

Nonprofits across Minnesota are increasingly struggling to attract and retain employees amid a tight job market and what has been dubbed the “great resignation.” A growing number of nonprofits are offering sign-up bonuses and other staffing incentives.

Minnesota’s nearly 10,000 nonprofits employ about 14% of the state’s workforce, but the number of nonprofit workers has shrunk by nearly 30,000 since the outbreak of COVID.

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In a new report from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, about half of the nonprofits surveyed said they face understaffing, difficulty hiring employees and high turnover. The two most important factors they cited were employee burnout and the inability to meet employee salary expectations.

The average salary of nonprofit workers in Minnesota, excluding those who work at major hospitals or colleges, was $61,247 in 2021, according to the Nonprofit Council.

Historical Society employees argue that their salaries lag behind wages in public libraries or similar state government functions. Jessup said low wages and retention issues were one of the reasons staff voted to unionize last year, part of a national trend among museums and arts organizations.

Employees at the Minnesota Museum of Science in St. Paul are also trying to organize, and last month submitted a campaign proposal to the National Labor Relations Board. The Science Museum lost about $15 million due to COVID closures and laid off 158 employees in 2020, nearly 40% of its workforce.

Jessup, who is president of the Historical Society union under AFSCME Council 5, said employees at cultural organizations want their pay and benefits to be competitive.

“Institutions will say, ‘Well, it’s a non-profit organization, the mission is really important, so you can’t expect them to make super high wages,'” she said. “The Mission doesn’t pay you rent. The Mission doesn’t put food on your table. You must still have viable wages.”

Workers in the Historical Society union earn an average of $18 an hour, which the union says nearly half are below the Twin Cities living wage of $18.20. On average, Historical Society union employees make $27.65 an hour, or about $57,000 a year, which is below the average hourly wage of $30.76 in the Twin Cities.

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The union, which plans to hold its Saturday noon rally at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, is urging the Historical Society to raise its minimum wage to $20 an hour, among other improved job benefits.

“I don’t think anyone here expects really extravagant wages,” Jessup said. “But they want to be able to afford to make ends meet.”

With earned income, including admission fees, accounting for 20% of its income, the Historical Society lost crucial dollars when it closed its locations early in the pandemic. Unlike most non-profit organizations, the Historical Society is largely supported by taxpayers, with government funding accounting for two-thirds of its budget.

According to an online statement from the Historical Society, she “must be a wise steward of the funds entrusted to us by donors and the State of Minnesota.” It added that employees have “some of the best benefits in the state,” that it uses state pay scales to set minimum wages and benchmarks salaries against comparable nonprofits.

In his statement, Whitworth said the organization has a “generous benefits package” and “attracts employees who are inspired by our mission to serve all the people of Minnesota by creating a strong connection to history.”

Earlier this year, the Historical Society had about 350 employees — 82 fewer than in June 2020 — and had a goal of hiring about 75 employees by the summer of 2023. Last month they had 378 full-time employees and Whitworth said they are on track to meet their hiring target.

Jessup said she worries her colleagues won’t stay around as many of them have part-time jobs or postpone car repairs and other expenses to make ends meet.

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“People have long made sacrifices to work in these facilities,” she said. “And we want to ensure that these jobs will continue to exist in the future and that they are affordable for a broader group of people.”