TACOMA (Dec. 5, 2023) — Workers at the Tacoma Art Museum are celebrating their unique union victory that could be a model for other museums.
The 26 members of Tacoma Art Museum Workers United (TAMWU) voted unanimously in favor of the union in November. It’s Washington state’s first cross-department union in an art museum — although the union is still seeking to include two security workers.
Museum Institutional Giving Manager Eden Redmond said they fought for an inclusive union because workers were experiencing similar issues museum-wide.
“The issues that workers were facing permeated across departments,” said Redmond, “and they permeated across experience levels and tenure, and they permeated across different generations of leadership — and so we began looking to each other and saying, hey, we’ve got a systemic problem and we need a systemic solution.”
TAMWU now joins the largest cultural workers union in Washington, AFSCME Council 28/WFSE, and the largest in the nation, AFSCME, which represents 10,000 museum workers at 91 cultural institutions in the public and private sector.
Redmond said they’ll start working on a contract in 2024. Museum leadership said they will work with the union going forward in this process.
Steve Rue, a preparator at the museum, said he sees their unionization drive as part of a larger movement.
“The problems that are happening in other museums are the exact same problems that we have here,” said Rue, “which goes to show that it’s more than just a few bad apples in a few places. The museum industry as a whole is outdated and broken.”
Redmond said Tacoma Art Museum workers have been connecting with staff at other museums around the country who are facing the same issues, and sees energy behind unionization elsewhere.
“If you’re going to be protecting and preserving culture through arts objects or historical objects,” said Redmond, “you can also be creating positive culture by protecting your workers.”
TAM Workers United, part of AFSCME Council 28/WFSE, is the union of Tacoma Art Museum employees working together to create a more equitable and sustainable future at the museum TAM. Learn more at tamworkers.org.