A quiet event at the de Young museum in San Francisco took a chaotic turn Friday evening when more than 100 union members took over the museum lobby and blocked the doors in a protest over a contract dispute.
Around 7 p.m. Friday 19 protesters who had apparently barricaded the entrance to the museum, located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, were cited on suspicion of trespassing, according to police.
The members of the Service Employees International Union shouted with bullhorns as patrons sipped drinks and watched.
San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos cheered on the protesters. "We can't lose this fight," he said.
The 94 employees who work at the de Young and the Palace of Fine Arts Museums have been negotiating a contract for the past year.
They said the museums are financially successful and managers are getting raises while asking employees to start paying about $50 to $150 a month for health care.
"We're nonprofit workers, we're not making a ton of money anyway,” said Elizabeth Scott Etienne, de Young exhibit designer. “We live in an expensive city. We're skilled workers."
Patrons seemed to take the protest in stride.
"It's just a little disruptive but it's fine and I'm sure they have good reason," said Anne Mannes of Fairfax.
A pre-arranged group of protesters blocked the entrance at 7 p.m.
Police moved in and took people away in plastic cuffs.
"The union is sitting on the best contract offer that any city union has received in 20 years," argued Ken Garcia of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Museum spokesman Garcia said museum managers pay the same in health care, and that the museum is offering workers up to a 12 percent wage increase over three years.
"Most of the unions have just settled for four percent earlier this year,” Garcia said. “So that's essentially three to four times what all the city unions have settled for already.”
Police said they arrested 19 people who were cited for misdemeanor trespassing and released.
Another contract negotiation was scheduled for Monday.
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