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Workers depicting Pilgrims seek better pay, job security

BOSTON >> Workers at a Massachusetts living history museum that depicts 17th century life at the time of the Pilgrims are asking to be treated by 21st century standards.

About 70 unionized workers at Plimoth Plantation, including some of the educators and historical interpreters who dress in period costume, have been involved in a yearlong labor impasse with management. They are bringing their issues to the attention of the public in time for Thanksgiving, the museum’s busiest day of the year, when 2,300 visitors come for a traditional holiday feast.

The members of the Society of Allied Museum Professionals union held informational pickets outside the nonprofit’s entrance over the weekend. On Tuesday, they plan to unveil a petition from supporters at Plymouth Rock.

The union and management have been negotiating a contract since December, when the union was certified. The union also represents some artisans, behind-the-scenes maintenance staff, and Native Americans who dress in historically accurate clothing at the museum’s 17th century Wampanoag village.

“Management has waged a very intense anti-union campaign ever since we started organizing,” said Kristi Schkade, a living history educator who dresses in period clothing, union secretary and a member of the negotiating team. “We believe that they are stalling. Their proposals they know are repugnant and unacceptable.”

The union is seeking job security for members who are let go at the end of every season (which ends Sunday) with no guarantee of being rehired; better staffing levels they say is critical for worker and visitor safety; and better pay for workers, some of whom are paid minimum wage.

The sides have been meeting twice a month and have a negotiating session scheduled for later this month.

“There is an established process of union negotiations and we are in that process,” museum spokeswoman Kate Sheehan said. “We are working hard to reach agreement, however, it takes good faith on both sides — the union included — to do so.”

Both sides agree that no museum activities have been jeopardized by the labor standoff.

And there are no plans for a strike, Schkade said.

“The last thing we want is to disturb the visitor experience,” she said. Especially Thanksgiving.

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