Staff at Tacoma Art Museum Move to Unionize

Employees of the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) are pushing to join the Washington Federation of State Employees, the Seattle Times reports. If they are successful, as the many unionizing employees at museums across the country have been in recent months, TAM will become the first major arts institution in Washington State with staff unionized across all departments. Among the benefits workers hope to obtain by unionizing are higher wages, more benefits, a voice in institutional decisions that impact them, and increased transparency on the part of management. Wages of particular concern according to the unionizing staffers, with many workers receiving between $15 and $17 an hour, which they contend is not a living wage in the Tacoma area and forces them to take on second jobs.

The employees on October 17 delivered to the museum’s board of trustees a letter requesting union representation. As well, roughly a dozen employees gathered outdoors across the street from the museum that day to announce the unionization effort, with local and state labor leaders out in force to show their support. “TAM workers are undervalued, underpaid and unheard,” noted Eden Redmond, TAM’s grants manager and a member of the three-worker committee elected by museum workers to organize on their behalf, speaking at the assembly. “Resources for grievances or advancement are available only if you can find them, invent them or befriend the right people.” 

To date, about 90 percent of the twenty-seven eligible TAM employees (excluding top-tier workers) have signed union authorization cards. Because the majority of workers have officially expressed a desire to unionize, the museum may elect to voluntarily recognize the union and enter into contract negations. Should it decline to do so, staff may file an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB); if the election nets a win for the union, with a majority voting to join, the NLRB will certify the union, compelling the museum to legally recognize it. Board president Jeff Williams told the Times that he had been unaware that museum employees “felt this strongly” about unionizing and averred that TAM management and the board would do “due diligence to make sure that we handle this in the most fair way possible. We want our employees to be happy,” Williams continued, “and we want our employees to be satisfied with their jobs.”

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