Militant Journalism

Tacoma Art Museum workers fight for union recognition

On Dec. 5,  the members of Tacoma Art Museum Workers Union in Tacoma, Washington, unanimously voted to “not leave one worker behind” and to pursue the path of a pressure campaign to demand the museum’s Board of Trustees voluntarily recognize TAMWU. The workers went public Oct. 17 with their decision to organize with over 80% of workers having signed union cards. 

The TAM workers are fighting for a living wage, safer working conditions, respect and against discrimination. Despite the vast majority of the eligible workers supporting the union, the museum bosses have refused to voluntarily recognize the union, hired a union-busting law firm and are attempting to split the bargaining unit.

Parking issue sparks organizing 

One of the most egregious of the unfair treatments faced by staff is that of paid parking. Museum staff pay the parking fee for the duration of their eight-hour shift, just like museum visitors. The lot itself is at the same time dealing with security issues like broken lights. This makes museum staff even more uncomfortable, having to pay $12 a day for an unlit and unsafe lot. Many feel it is especially unjust that they pay for parking while board members park for free.

Bosses try to divide the workers 

With the overwhelming plurality of support for the union, these workers would have a sure victory if they filed for an NLRB election. Unfortunately, the limits of outdated labor laws in the United States complicate this course. 

TAM workers’ largest obstacle to winning a union election is an archaic and obscure clause in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which prohibits security guards from being in the same bargaining unit as the rest of the museum team. The only way to circumvent this clause is to have the union voluntarily recognized by the museum. This is the sole approach within the scope of labor law that would keep the unit undivided.

An added concern is the issue of whether the staff of the visitation services department would be included in the security guard designation. Visitation services workers collect entrance fees, assist visitors and remind visitors of museum rules. The visitation workers are the most vulnerable and lowest paid workers at TAM. Many of these workers cannot afford to pay rent in Tacoma or live in very precarious housing. 

Board refuses to voluntarily recognize TAMWU

On Nov. 19, the members of TAM’S Board of Trustees decided in a rushed and non-transparent vote to reject the union. This failure to adhere to the wishes of the vast majority of the museum staff did not come as a surprise to many. One of the initial moves of the board was hiring notorious union-busting law firm Seyfarth and Shaw. 

Union member Eden Richmond said, “Voluntary recognition is a legal pathway to unionization, categorizing it as anything else is simply misinformation and union busting.” On the board’s rejection of voluntary recognition she commented, “It’s disappointing, but we have great support from unions across Washington, the community in Tacoma, and workers at TAM, and we’re ready to keep going.” (

Union members expect a prolonged fight and are counting on the support of the community to pressure the museum to concede and recognize the union. Already in two separate organized rallies, hundreds of Tacoma residents, community activists and members of local unions have come out and shown support to the museum workers. It is widely understood that Tacoma has a long and proud history of being a working-class town with a solid history of labor organizing.

While the board continues to be willfully ignorant and disrespectful of the needs of the museum staff, these workers have decided to not back down. 

You can support the workers at TAM by visiting their webpage, signing their petition and following their progress on social media. Those able to visit Tacoma are welcome to come patronize the museum and let the workers know you stand in solidarity with them!

Solidarity rally at Tacoma Art Museum. Photo: TAMWU

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