Tacoma Art Museum board opts not to recognize workers’ union effort

One month after workers at the Tacoma Art Museum announced an effort to join a union, the museum’s board of trustees decided Thursday not to voluntarily recognize the union.

Last month, TAM workers announced their desire to create TAM Workers United and obtain representation from the Washington Federation of State Employees, becoming the state’s first union with workers from multiple departments.

Board President Jeff Williams said in a statement Friday that the board has “decided to respectfully decline” the workers’ request for voluntary recognition. The statement said that while the board respects its workers’ effort to organize, many of the workers’ grievances — including “poor communication, erratic decision-making and disrespectful treatment” — are not traditional topics of collective bargaining.

In the statement, the board also requested that any unionization efforts be put off until TAM hires a new executive director who can address these grievances. “We are concerned that the current unionization effort is being undertaken at a time of upheaval within TAM’s upper management,” the statement said, referring to multiple vacancies in senior management positions, including executive director. The museum’s most recent executive director, David Setford, resigned in September, and the board chose not to have an interim director while it searches for his replacement.

Eden Redmond, a member of the four-person committee elected by the workers to organize for them, said the workers are disappointed the board did not voluntarily recognize the union and do not believe this decision should depend on the next executive director.

Unions “make structural changes that secure workers’ rights, no matter who is in power,” she said.

The workers are still determining their immediate next steps in their unionization effort, but Redmond said they are “not going away anytime soon.”

So far, more than 80% of TAM’S 27 eligible employees (nonsenior staff) have signed union authorization cards, indicating they want to be represented by a union. They want increased wages and benefits, more transparency from higher-ups and more say in institutional decisions that affect them.

Now that TAM’s board has said it will not voluntarily recognize the union, the remaining path to unionization would be through a National Labor Relations Board election. If a majority of workers vote in favor of union representation in an election, the NLRB would certify the union, at which point TAM would be legally required to recognize it and begin bargaining.

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