Workers at the Baltimore Museum vote to form a wall-to-wall union

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Over the last several months, workers at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) have been engaged in unionising efforts. On 14 July, in a vote of 89 to 29, workers at the museum elected to form a union (22 of the 140 total eligible workers did not vote). The election was conducted by the American Arbitration Association and the newly formed BMA union will be part of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 67.

Staff at the BMA worked to form a wall-to-wall union that would represent staff from all sectors and departments versus being broken up into two different bargaining units. The Baltimore Museum of Art Union (BMAU) will consist of staff from across departments including retail operations, conservation, curatorial, security, facilities, marketing, installation, education and others. The workers first announced their intentions to organise a union in the autumn of 2021.

Major issues motivating the workers’ organising efforts included pay equity, health and safety concerns, greater paths to advancement and others. Workers are hoping to maintain the momentum from Thursday’s vote as they begin to negotiate with museum administration for their first contract.

“I have faith, not only in my organising unit to bargain for a contract that embodies the needs of all eligible staff members, but in BMA leadership to meet the urgency of this moment,” says Keondra Prier, a Mellon Initiative project manager in the education and interpretation division at the BMA. “Not every museum is as willing to take thoughtful risks towards the future as the BMA is. It is my hope that this process will be an example, not only in the region but across the country, of the potential of a mission-driven museum to persevere where others may have stumbled. The majority vote to unionise is a manifestation of our mission, a commitment to strengthen our museum for generations to come.”

The BMA is the just the latest institution to uniose in a nationwide wave of labour organising in the arts sector. Last month, unionised workers at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston reached an agreement for their first contract following 18 months of negotiations. Earlier this week workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art rallied as negotiations over their first union contract seemed poised to stretch into a third year. Additionally, staff at many art colleges and universities across the country are also joining the labor movement including the ArtCenter College of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and others.

Rob Kenmpton, who works in the BMA’s security department and co-curated the recent exhibition Guarding the Art, echoed Prier’s sentiment. “My gut reaction is that this is a momentous effort. We have made history in Baltimore with this wall-to-wall union,” he says. “Collectively, we are stronger together, and l’m excited to affect forward-thinking decisions with my colleagues. Voices that had been previously unheard can now resonate. That unions are pro-workers is worth mentioning. As museums seek to be inclusive and accessible, organising has allowed us to do that.”

In a statement sent to the The Art Newspaper, the museum’s interim co-directors Christine Dietze and Asma Naeem said, “From the outset of conversations regarding possible unionisation at the Baltimore Museum of Art last fall, the museum’s leadership team and board of trustees have supported the staff’s right to organise and consistently communicated that this decision was one for the staff to make. This is why the BMA agreed to an election process overseen by an independent arbitrator and to the possibility of a single wall-to-wall bargaining unit at the museum. […]  We will now work to determine next steps to begin the collective bargaining process and what we hope will be productive and collaborative negotiations.”

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