Tacoma Art Museum workers push to unionize
Tacoma Art Museum employees have formally presented a workers’ union and request to be recognized by museum executive leaders.
Tacoma Art Museum employees have reached a supermajority in their efforts to unionize. After the announcement on Monday, October 17, the TAM Workers’ Union petition collected over 400 signatures in just a few short days.
In addition to the community support, there has been much expressed solidarity from museum donors, patrons, past employees, fellow WFSE members and artists alike.
The TAM Workers Union website reports the push to unionize has received over 80% backing from eligible employees, starting the movement off with tremendous support.
Concerns addressed by workers in their movement to unionize are long standing within the Tacoma Art Museum community. In their letter to the board of trustees, workers describe the focus of their efforts in this movement:
“We bring this museum to life everyday, but our efforts have been undermined by un-livable wages, unsafe working conditions, no opportunity to provide input on policy, few avenues for review and advancement, a lack of accountability and transparency, as well as fear of retaliation when we raise concerns.”
They explain though Tacoma Art Museum has committed to justice of race, gender and disability, efforts to systematically achieve and sustain this justice have not been met. Forming a union offered an opportunity to meet worker needs and simultaneously improve Tacoma Art Museum processes and functioning as a whole.
Collaboration to improve working conditions at Tacoma Art Museum began around the start of the year. During the first months, outreach conversations between museum colleagues, across departments, uncovered overwhelming, united support for unionization.
Eden Redmond, Institutional Giving Manager, explains connecting across departments helped employees realize how systemically rooted the issues were.
“A systemic issue requires systemic repair, and the union was the tool to use,” Redmond said.
Drawing inspiration from the national movement of Cultural Workers United and the UW Librarians, museum workers officially came together with the Washington Federation of State Employees in the Spring of 2022 to formally discuss the opportunity to create the TAM Workers Union.
Tacoma Art Museum workers identify the current process for submitting feedback or addressing issues as ineffective in its ability to provide consistent and restorative responses to employee concerns. Though middle and senior managers have worked to advocate for and with employees, workers are often left without information on who the grievance was communicated to, leaving them feeling as though action was not taken, there was no follow through or having feelings of fear of retaliation.
This is due, in large part, to precedent showing a difficult history in securing transparency as a consistent part of the museum’s culture of communication, identifying the issue as largely systemic.
“Overwhelmingly, there isn’t one bad actor here. We are pointing at a system that we want to change together (with executive leaders),” Redmond said.
Describing the vision for this movement as workers advocating for their rights and working conditions, the union members hope to bring about the best policies and practices for the museum and those who help it thrive. Redmond says pursuing unionization was an intentional effort to communicate workers’ desire to work collaboratively with executive leaders. She clarifies:
“We want the board to give voluntary recognition of our union. Then, we will get to collaborate with the board and executive leaders to begin reimagining how things will work in the museum. We want to really roll up our sleeves and get to work with leaders.”
In their letter to the board of trustees, workers explain that efforts to unionize are rooted in the museum’s mission to “inspire broader perspectives and cultivate a compassionate future.”
In response to the TAM Workers Union letter, the Seattle Times reports Board President, Jeff Williams, asserted he was unaware of the worker’s concerns until reading their announcement letter. He shared that the museum board will do their due diligence in efforts to address the TAM Workers Union terms in a way that is fair. Williams stated it is a priority of the Board of Trustees that workers are happy and content in their roles.
“We have been told we will not have an answer, yes or no, by Monday October 24,” Redmond said in regards to a response to any of their requests.
A union solidarity rally will be held, rain or shine, on Saturday, October 29. Rain ponchos and pop-up tents will be provided. The focus of the rally is to gather people together in the community to show support for the approval and formal recognition of the TAM Workers Union.
You can visit the TAM Workers’ Union website at TAMWorkers.org to sign their petition of support, learn more about unionizing in the workplace, and read their full mission statement.