Academy Museum Staff Seeks to Unionize With AFSCME

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Less than a year after the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened its doors, staffers working in the front and back of the house at the industry institution are seeking to form a union with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

A group calling itself the Academy Museum Workers United (AMWU) announced on Thursday that they will be seeking voluntary recognition from management and otherwise will be submitting a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. They are looking to be represented by the AFSCME Council 36, which encompasses Locals representing library workers, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) employees, city workers and probation officers, among others, and advocating to have more than 200 front and back-of-house workers included in a bargaining unit.

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“We are thrilled to be forming our union, Academy Museum Workers United, because it is time those who work in preserving and celebrating art, in this case the art of cinema, have a voice on the job,” said retail sales associate Sarah Stearn in a statement. “All workers deserve respect and a say in our working conditions and the direction of our work. For this museum to be successful, its workers must be safe and respected.”

The union says that workers are seeking to tackle issues of wages, working conditions and benefits, as well as have more of a say in the museum, by unionizing. The group has sent a letter to management announcing their intention to unionize, but is still collecting membership cards before formally requesting voluntary recognition; the group believes they have the support of the majority of their requested bargaining unit.

In a statement, the Academy Museum spokesperson said that the museum has received notice of and “appreciates” the worker group’s interest in unionizing. “We recognize this is a very important choice and believe it is in the best interest of staff to be fully informed when making a decision. As such, we have recommended to the union that the National Labor Relations Board commence a secret ballot vote as a next step. We look forward to proceeding with conversations with this group,” the spokesperson said.

The last few years have seen a wave of organizing at prominent U.S. museums, with new unions forming at MOCA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim, the New Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. Staffers at the L.A.-based Marciano Art Foundation were in the midst of organizing when the museum laid off staff and then shut its doors permanently in late 2019. The AFSCME, which currently represents around 10,000 museum workers, is organizing Academy Museum workers as part of its “Cultural Workers United” movement, which seeks to represent workers in cultural institutions like museums, zoos and libraries.

In a statement, Academy Museum assistant curator J. Raúl Guzmán said of the unionization effort, “We believe in the Academy Museum’s mission to be radically inclusive, and we believe in our mission as staff to be of service and to be agents of positive change in our community.” He added, “Through our union, we believe we can set industry standards for cultural institutions around the world – standards that improve job security, fair and livable wages, and safety for all workers.”

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