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VSOs call for Seattle Art Museum to end stonewalling

Join SAM Visitor Service Officers as they rally for fair contract on June 6


SEATTLE (June 4, 2024) — After three years of organizing, 21 months of bargaining, and nine months of picketing, the united independent union at the Seattle Art Museum, SAM VSO Union, is ready to wrap up their fight for a first contract. To show the museum it is time to stop the delays and deliver a fair contract for Visitor Service Officers, the union is holding its third rally, “Rally for Fair Benefits: End Museum Stonewalling!” on Thursday, June 6.

TAKE A STAND — All union members and community supporters are invited to attend Thursday’s rally from noon to 2 p.m. at the Seattle Art Museum, 1300 1st Ave. in downtown Seattle. You can also show your support for by signing their petition to the museum Board of Trustees saying that VSOs deserve a fair contract.

Due to a lack of response from museum management, the workers of SAM VSO Union say they have no choice but to undertake more escalated labor actions, in their fight for a contract that will provide the wage and benefits needed to survive in the city of Seattle.

In January 2024, the workers confronted interim SAM CEO Jeff Draeger during a March on the Boss with a petition that asked him to advocate for the VSOs’ needs for fair wages and benefits to the Seattle Art Museum Board of Trustees. Met with no agreement to advocate on their behalf by the CEO, the workers then confronted the Board of Trustees directly at their April 2024 Board of Trustees Retreat event, playing a song titled “We All Need A Fair Living Wage.”

SAM VSO Union says that the museum has made minor improvements to its wage proposals in response to union actions, but has remained steadfast in their refusal to restore cuts to retirement or create a seniority system to reward workers that have been at SAM for years, or even decades. Because of this, the union is on the verge of having to engage in full-on work stoppages to get their needs met.

In August 2023, SAM management rushed through a new employee handbook amidst bargaining that changed elements of the status quo. The union attempted to get the museum to bargain these changes, but they refused, forcing the union to pursue a remedy through the NLRB by filing an Unfair Labor Practice charge. Filing this charge took many hours of work on behalf of the union, as the museum refused (even after charges were filed) to provide a workable rundown of the changes that were made to the handbook, resulting in the union comparing by hand two documents, each of over 50 pages.

The NLRB eventually ruled in favor of the union, and SAM had to reverse the changes that were made, and post a notice stating that they would not again change the status quo without bargaining. While SAM VSO Union is grateful for the successful outcome of this charge, in the end, it demonstrated the museum’s lack of care in the bargaining process. Even with the successful outcome, the museum still drowned the union in paperwork, and delayed the bargaining process overall.

SAM VSO Union says members are focused on benefits. Since the museum cut pensions back in the 2000s, employee benefits have been whittled away consistently, while the museum takes on expansion project after expansion project. This continues today, as the museum removed the already meager employee retirement benefits during COVID, citing revenue shortfalls. When SAM received forgiveness on $4,860,000 of PPP loans, the museum failed to restore pre-COVID retirement benefits despite restoring leadership and executive pay.

The museum has stated in the bargaining room that the budget limitations stem from wealthy donors “dog-earing” funds to areas other than employee compensation. In one particularly frustrating meeting, SAM’s bargaining rep emphasized a “trickle-down” approach to SAM’s economics. The Seattle Art Museum wants its workers to believe that as the museum continues to expand and be successful, its workers will see the benefits some day.

SAM VSO Union members wonder when that day will be.

The Seattle Art Museum Visitor Service Officer Union is an independent union represented by the gallery guards. The SAM VSO Union was officially recognized on May 31, 2022, and have been in contract negotiations for the first contract for 22 months. The SAM VSO Union is the first and currently only union at the Seattle Art Museum. Learn more at

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