Is Museum of Science treating its workers poorly?

The nonprofit Museum of Science is operating like – well, a business.

That’s the broad takeaway from a story in the Boston Globe, which reports that sales employees at the museum say they are being pressured into “taking as much money as possible from visitors.”

In the print edition of the Globe, the story ran at the top of page one, but it’s a bit hard to understand what makes it so unusual.

The museum is apparently going through a tough stretch. Its longtime president, Ioannis Miaoulis, who made $626,000 in total compensation in fiscal 2017, left in January and hasn’t yet been replaced. The museum’s total operating income is down, from $66.2 million in 2016 to $63.9 million in 2017. With expenses outpacing revenues, 29 employees have been let go via a combination of voluntary retirements and layoffs.

The Globe story focuses on a reorganization of the museum’s visitor services staff, which resulted in some employees leaving and some being shifted to new positions. The workers make $15 an hour (after a recent $2 an hour increase) and are being pressured to sell, according to the story. Eleven percent of daily transactions are expected to be converted into annual memberships and 28 percent of transactions need to include an “upsell” for a show that is not included in the admission price.

Museum officials say there hasn’t been an increased emphasis on sales goals and no workers have been fired as part of the reorganization, but the Globe reports that employees who haven’t hit their sales targets have been given warnings and denied raises. One employee was told to reach the sales goals or lose shifts.

The Globe quotes Brian McGrath, who left the museum three years ago saying that during his time there he saw a shift in focus from making guests happy to getting “as much money as we could from them.” He said he was pressured to sell tickets to the IMAX movie Africa: The Serengeti to families with young children, even though the film contained scenes of animals eating other animals.

“The museum mistreats its workers and is currently exploiting its staff and its visitors for profit,” McGrath wrote in an email. “If you care about the city and if you care about people in general, it should bother you that an institution which markets itself as a leading provider of educational family fun is employing dirty tactics and ignoring the welfare of its dedicated staff in order to take visitors for as much as they can.”

Dirty tactics? Seems like a bit of overreach there. The reality is that revenues are down at the Museum of Science, and the institution is scrambling to bring them back up. One could argue that things could get worse for employees if revenues keep slipping.



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