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Tacoma Art Museum board opts for more union-busting

WSLC vows continued solidarity with TAM Workers United: ‘We have defeated these tactics before, and we will defeat them again’


TACOMA (May 16, 2023) — It’s been seven months since the workers at Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) announced that they have formed a wall-to-wall union (TAM Workers United), as part of AFSCME Council 28. They are seeking livable wages, safe working conditions, transparency and accountability from management, and respect on the job. But despite support from all departments and 90 percent of union-eligible staff, the museum’s administrators have refused to recognize the union.

Now TAM management is actively engaged in a union-busting attempt to undermine an independent union election. After publicly promising a decision on union recognition at a March 23 rally outside the museum, the TAM Board of Trustees remained silent about their decision after a March 31 meeting. It soon became clear that they would not only refuse to voluntarily recognize the union, they planned to create hurdles for an independent union election that seek to divide the workers and restrict representation.

Last week, the Executive Board of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO visited TAM workers to express their solidarity in what has become a protracted, unnecessary struggle to join together in a union. WSLC President April Sims read a letter delivered to TAM administrators last week signed by the entire executive board of the state’s largest union organization.

“The WSLC strongly calls on you, the Board of Trustees and TAM leadership, to cease continued obstruction, agree to an independent election for all eligible workers, and initiate negotiations on the Voluntary Election and Recognition Agreement,” the letter reads. “We stand in solidarity with the workers’ commitment to one another and their goal as a union to uplift TAM staff, our Tacoma community, and the museum itself.”

Pressure has been building in support of the TAM workers for months, with Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and the entire Tacoma City Council writing to the TAM Board to review its anti-racist policies and negotiate with the union.

But several weeks ago, TAM workers received a proposed union eligibility list from the museum that they say continues to divide workers by race, class, and gender. It does not grant union rights to workers with the greatest safety concerns — the workers who would benefit most from having a voice in their workplace.

Workers say that the list proposed by the museum:

1) Refuses to commit to including security guards which disregards the entire reason they must ask them for an independent election, rather than hold a NLRB election.

2) Excludes two of the three members of the Organizing Committee (union members chosen by their coworkers to represent and lead the unit) from being union eligible.

3) Excludes the entire Development Department from being union eligible for unstated reasons.

4) Continues to use the unnecessary and problematic “professional” and “non-professional” distinctions that divide workers by race, class and gender.

The Board has said it will not oppose union recognition via an independent election. But workers point out that thus far they have refused to negotiate an independent election agreement. Without good-faith negotiations on an election agreement and a mutually agreed arbitrator, workers say they risk retaliation against union leaders, backtracking from their employer, and stalemate scenarios with no hope for resolution.

They say it is crucial that the Board initiates negotiations on an independent election as soon as possible to protect workers and ensure a speedy process.

Staff at Tacoma Art Museum are choosing to form TAM Workers United to improve wages, working conditions, transparency and accountability from management, and to ensure an equitable future for the museum and their community. If they are successful, they will be the first wall-to-wall museum workers union in Washington state.

AFSCME represents more cultural workers than any other union, including 10,000 museum workers at 91 cultural institutions in the public and private sector, and more than 25,000 library workers at 275 public and private libraries.


► From the News Tribune (May 16, 2023) — Tacoma Art Museum chooses Midwest museum head as its newest executive director — Andrew Maus begins his role at TAM on June 6. He arrives as its staff is trying to unionize and its curatorial staff has diminished to one. TAM Workers United’s organizing committee told The News Tribune Monday that it’s, ”…hopeful for Andy Maus’ arrival and call on him to lead the Board in recognizing the union so we can partner for a successful future where workers have the respect, resources, and protections to help TAM thrive.”


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