Original source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If the story of the janitors and groundskeepers at the Carnegie Science Center weren’t true, it would seem as if the advocates of the Employee Free Choice Act were making it up.

Those 10 people work for the same employer as the 50 people who clean the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History and the Carnegie Libraries. Yet, because of a quirk of history dating to a time when the individual museums were run as if they were separate organizations, the janitorial staffs at the museums and libraries are unionized. The cleaners at the Science Center are not.

All 10 people employed to clean the Science Center have signed cards stating they want to join Service Employees International Unions Local 32 BJ, the same local that represents their colleagues at the libraries and other museums.

In response, the Carnegie Museums has called for a secret ballot election that will be supervised and held by the National Labor Relations Board on April 17.

The reason the property service workers at the Science Center want to unionize is simple: They make significantly less money than their co-workers across town.

Royben Pringle, 24, of Northview Heights, graduated from Oliver High School and has a certificate from Community College of Allegheny County in landscaping and janitorial work.

For the past three years he has been classified as a part-time worker, despite logging 40 hours a week at the Carnegie Science Center where he mostly works the overnight shift cleaning floors and dusting.

‘I love my job,’ he said. ‘I have no problem with my job at all — just the pay.’

The pay is $7.85 an hour. He is without medical insurance and is not granted days off with pay for sick time or vacation.

Although he is asthmatic, he does not go to the doctor and does not have a prescription for Albuterol, the fast-acting bronchodilator that could help him breathe when he is having an attack. He said his way of handling his illness is to lie down when he is having trouble breathing, because he can afford neither the medicine nor the trip to the doctor.

If he did the same job at the museum in Oakland, it would not be an issue.

The janitors at the Oakland museums and the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh make $10 to $14 an hour and are awarded full benefits, including health insurance, vacation time and sick days, according to Gabe Morgan from the union that represents them.

There are no union cleaners at the Science Center, or at the Andy Warhol Museum, another Carnegie Museums subsidiary, where the cleaners are employed by a contracting company.

After all the Science Center janitors signed cards saying they wanted to be in the union, the union requested to be recognized without a vote.

‘We thought, why put the workers through that,’ said Mr. Morgan, of SEIU 32 BJ for Western Pennsylvania. ‘On the surface this wouldn’t seem that complicated.’

The Carnegie Museums, however, called for a secret ballot.

‘In February, we asked the SEIU union to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board requesting a secret-ballot election. As you know, the secret-ballot process was established by the NLRB to ensure that all employees would be afforded the opportunity to make a choice on the issue of unionization in private and without outside interference from either party, and we fully support that process,’ the museum’s spokeswoman Betsy Momich said in an e-mail.

‘The union made the decision not to file for an election. Subsequently, Carnegie Museums filed a petition with the NLRB, and a supervised vote is now scheduled for April 17. Had the union filed a petition for a vote in February, the vote would have taken place by now.’

Mr. Pringle said he didn’t need to have an election, ‘I signed the card.’

He said everyone else did, too.

‘Everyone needs better pay. I’ve been there three years, and I’m still part-time,’ he said.

Mr. Pringle said that since he started working for the museum, his pay has been increased by 15 cents an hour. He said some of the people who are cleaning the Science Center have been there for 10 years and make less than $9 an hour.

Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said it was cases such as the one at the Carnegie Science Center that show why Congress should pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

‘They have 100 percent get a union card, but the employer decides to have an election so they can delay this thing,’ Mr. Trumka said. ‘It’s a classic example.’

Under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which is pending before Congress, employees could form a union if more than 50 percent of them sign cards signifying that they want to join a union. Negotiations would have to follow 10 days after a union is certified by the NLRB. The sides have 90 days to reach a contract before either side can ask the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to step in to help reach an agreement.

Ms. Momich said there were no plans to negotiate with the Science Center cleaners until the results of the election are in, but that if the union is adopted, negotiations will begin shortly after that.