Only days ago, New York City Amazon workers in Staten Island made national headlines after winning a battle to unionize their fulfillment center — the first of its kind for Amazon. In 2020, Christian Smalls was fired by the tech giant for staging a walk out over COVID safety concerns within the factory. With very little money, he organized a grass-roots campaign to unionize Amazon. The votes were cast and counted, and on April 1, the Amazon Labor Union was formed.
Union formations and strikes are becoming more common among major US corporations and one battle rages here in our neighborhood — at the American Museum of Natural History.
For the past 11 years, Jacklyn Grace Lacey was a senior museum specialist in African and Pacific Ethnology at the AMNH. She was in good standing and never faced any disciplinary action. As employees returned to in-person work, she alleges that her work environment became unsafe because of COVID-19. Lacey filed a complaint against the museum with OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One guest services representative (speaking to VICE) claimed that the museum did not provide enough PPE. Lacey went further, telling Newsweek that the museum was hoarding N95 and KN95 masks. She also alleges that multiple AMNH employees died from COVID-19 complications.
According to AMNH, in a statement shared by Newsweek, “unlike the rest of the Museum’s employees, Ms. Lacey has only been at the Museum a handful of days in the last two years and accordingly there is no credible basis for her to comment on the Museum’s pandemic operations and safety.”
In October, Lacey began taking time off to organize a labor union which would include 184 museum employees from over 50 positions; from cashiers to researchers. In December, she was diagnosed with a serious case of COVID which turned into bronchitis and pneumonia, sending Lacey to the emergency room, and leaving her hospitalized until January. The day after being released from the hospital, and the day before she would have been eligible to apply for medical leave, the American Museum of Natural History reportedly fired her. Today, she continues to suffer from Long Covid.
As word of a potential union spread, AMNH began sending emails to its employees. One email, attained by VICE, stated, “The Museum has no intention of reducing pay rates in the event of unionization, but it is simply wrong to say that is impossible.”
“People are scared of retaliation for supporting the union,” one museum worker (requesting anonymity for fear of retaliation) told VICE, “especially since there’s a case where they’ve terminated the leader. That sent a strong message that they’re willing to do that and that everyone should watch out.”
A lawsuit is currently being carried out against Lacey, led by Seyfarth Shaw, a law firm with a reputation for being anti-union. Denying that their employment has any connection to her unionizing efforts, the law firm told Newsweek that, “Seyfarth Shaw has been representing the Museum in connection with Ms. Lacey’s ongoing personnel issues and her meritless assertions.”
According to Lacey’s Twitter account, a vote has recently occurred, but the official counting has been delayed for an unknown reason and we can expect results soon.
ILTUWS has contacted AMNH for comment; they have not replied, as of writing.