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What's New At Museums This Year? Labor Unions.

Despite the challenging environment of 2020, museum workers have scored a series of organizing victories. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizers to adjust their efforts and try new approaches to bringing workers together. The series of successes serve as examples that other organizing drives can learn from and help more working people have a voice on the job.


Here are the recent museum organizing wins:


Workers Organize at Portland Museum of Art: Workers at the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) in Maine announced that they are organizing a union with UAW Local 2110 in New York City. “We are the workers of the Portland Museum of Art. We love the arts, this museum, and our communities around Portland,” the new union members tweeted. “We are organizing for a seat at the table to ensure that our voices are collectively heard. Together we can build a stronger, democratic, and sustainable PMA.” The organizing drive is part of a renewed drive among art workers to unionize for better wages and a voice on the job. Last year, art workers unionized at the New Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.


Carnegie Museum Workers in Pittsburgh Vote Overwhelmingly to Join USW: Workers at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, started organizing in order to win better pay and benefits, inclusivity in hiring, increased transparency, a safer workplace, and other goals. The 500 workers successfully voted to form the United Museum Workers. The scientists, educators, art handlers, administrative staff, gift shop clerks, ushers, and other workers are employed at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Science Center, and the Andy Warhol Museum. Gabi DiDonna, an associate registrar at the Carnegie Museum of Art, said: "We are thrilled to become members of the strong and diverse labor union whose founding members helped to build the fortune of our museum's namesake. We look forward to having a seat at the table and a voice in the decisions that affect our quality of life both on and off the job."


Workers at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis Join AFSCME: In the fall of 2019, an organizing drive began at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Organizing efforts over the next year culminated in a victory and the affiliation of the Walker Worker Union with AFSCME. In a statement, the new unit said: "It’s official! Our card-check is complete and due to the overwhelming support of workers in our bargaining unit, the Walker Worker Union, has won voluntary recognition! We look forward to bargaining our first contract, continuing to build this community of care, and working with Walker leadership to create a structure for all Walker staff to have a voice in the decisions that affect our work and our lives. We are proud to join AFSCME and the ranks of unionized arts and cultural workers across the country."


Workers at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Join UAW: An overwhelming majority of workers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, voted to join the UAW. The organizing drive succeeded in the face of challenges to the museum's operation because of COVID-19. Jon Feng, a members and visitors service representative at the museum, said: “I find this redistribution of power meaningful. I believe in our ability to work together to negotiate and then uphold a more just workplace for all.”


Milwaukee Art Museum Workers Overwhelmingly Vote to Join Machinists: A group of more than 140 employees of the Milwaukee Art Museum voted by 72% to join the Machinists (IAM). The new IAM members work in every capacity at the Milwaukee Art Museum, including visitor services, food and beverage, education and programs, information systems, facilities, and more. “I want to welcome these members to the Machinists union family,” said IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Steve Galloway. “I’m so proud of them for educating themselves about the benefits of the IAM and working so hard for union representation and a voice in their workplace. Unions aren’t just for manufacturing workers; they have a place in every working environment.”


Philadelphia Museum of Art Workers Overwhelmingly Vote to Join AFSCME: With 89% voting in favor of unionization, workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be represented by AFSCME District Council 47. The victory establishes the first wall-to-wall union at a major museum in the United States. The yearlong campaign was delayed by COVID-19 and management's "attempts to discourage unionization."


Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art to Voluntarily Recognize Employee Union: Two weeks after workers at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) launched a campaign to join AFSCME, MoCA agreed to voluntarily recognize the new union. The new unit will represent more than 120 staffers. The workers sought to unionize in order to obtain higher pay and better benefits.


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