The following is from AFSCME Council 28/WFSE:
TACOMA (Nov. 10, 2023) — Next week, 26 workers at the Tacoma Art Museum will finally have the ability to form their union, TAM Workers United. After votes are counted, TAMWU could become the first multi-department art museum union in the state. A victory is expected, with a supermajority of support behind unionization since the campaign began over a year ago.
TAMWU aims to join the largest cultural workers union in Washington, AFSCME Council 28/WFSE, and the largest in the nation, AFSCME. AFSCME represents over 10,000 museum workers at 91 cultural institutions in the public and private sector.
TAMWU was created to combat the harsh inequity at the museum that was hindering worker and institutional success. Stagnant wages and pandemic layoffs lead to burnout and high turnover. Issues with discrimination, at direct odds with the TAM mission statement and ideals, made workers feel unheard and unsafe.
Separation between frontline and administrative staff made the museum’s operations feel disjointed. But TAMWU aims to change that by giving a voice to all TAM workers.
Workers believe that TAM can align with its mission to “inspire broader perspectives and cultivate a compassionate future” with collaboration from its passionate staff, who work with the community daily and see aspects of the museum that board members don’t.
If workers vote in their union, TAMWU will include Visitors Services Representatives, a frontline division of staff that is the most diverse segment of the workforce and among the lowest paid, despite the museum’s early attempt to exclude them from the bargaining unit.
Even without formal recognition from the museum, TAMWU already affected change at TAM. Employees can now park for free while on shift, reducing a cost barrier to working at the location in downtown Tacoma.
Encouragement from the greater Pierce County labor movement ensured TAMWU’s success over the yearlong fight at TAM. Multiple rallies and community events stoked passion and solidarity across the Tacoma community, solidifying confidence in TAMWU’s mission and reminding anyone who forgot that Tacoma is a proud union town.
Some supporters included the Pierce County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, ILWU Washington Area District Council, ILWU Local 23, Washington Education Association Soundview UniServ, Pierce County Building & Construction Trades Council; elected officials including: Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, the entire Tacoma City Council, WA State Senate Democrats and Legislative District 27 Democrats; climate justice activists 350 Tacoma; Tacoma Democratic Socialists of America; Tacoma Party for Socialism and Liberation; Tacoma Labor School; and many other artists, community organizations and local businesses.
The unyielding support from all areas of Pierce County was indispensable to the campaign, and this is just the beginning. TAMWU’s goal is to achieve the dignity workers deserve in every position at the museum and inspire cultural workers across the state to organize with WFSE.
TAMWU is grateful to the TAM Board for recognizing their union. With this recognition, they hope to collaborate and bargain for working conditions that ensures the museum thrives through an empowered workforce.
As more cultural workers join the fight for dignity in the workplace and a say in their working conditions, the standards rise across the entire cultural industry. While TAMWU was the first private-sector cultural workers union in Washington to organize across departments, workers are sure they won’t be the last.