Tacoma museum board indicates support of union, but not like organizers hoped

Employees organizing as the Tacoma Art Museum Workers United union rallied with supporters March 23, 2023. // Credit: Lauren Gallup NWPB
Employees organizing as the Tacoma Art Museum Workers United union rallied with supporters March 23, 2023. (Credit: Lauren Gallup / NWPB)



The Tacoma Art Museum’s board of directors has indicated they will voluntarily recognize museum employees who have been organizing for the Tacoma Art Museum Workers United (TAMWU) union, through a privately arbitrated election.

TAMWU organizers said they don’t support the conditions of that recognition, though.

The board has stated the union cannot include two security guard positions. 

Board members believe the two, highly trained security control room operators are essential to allow the museum to remain open and protect museum assets in the event of labor unrest,” according to a press release. 

Stephen Rue, lead preparer for the museum and TAMWU organizing committee member, said that reasoning doesn’t make sense for the Tacoma Art Museum.

“It really has no basis in reality for our museum,” Rue said. “The idea that they are essential to protect the assets of the museum is silly, we do not have 24-hour security, all they have to do is lock the door. That doesn’t require two control room operators to do that.”

TAMWU organizers have been fighting to include the security guards from the beginning. That’s why the committee has been seeking voluntary recognition by the museum instead of going through the National Labor and Relations Board (NLRB).

“That’s kind of antithetical to how we have come to this conclusion to unionize,” said Carrie Morton, museum store manager and organizing committee member. “We are very disappointed that they would choose to exclude guards.”

The Tacoma Art Museum is a private employer. Employees have three options for recognition.

One would be to receive union recognition by submitting a request to the NLRB. Union organizers have been against this process as the NLRB dictates that security staff cannot be in the same union as other employees.

The second option, and the one that organizers have been pushing for, is voluntary recognition from the museum. Employees can circumvent the NLRB if they have over 50% of employees signing an authorization card.

“We do have that 80% support among eligible staff,” Rue said. 

The third option is the NLRB would order the employer to acknowledge the union. That would happen if there was at least 50% support amongst members, and the employer had engaged in unfair labor practices that would make a fair election impossible.

The holdup seems to be that the union wants the security guard positions to be included and the board has said they do not accept the security guard positions as union-eligible.

In a press release, Jeff Williams, board president, said, “the board’s decision is a positive step. We are excited to move forward and work together with employees to continue offering art experiences that enrich the community.”

When contacted Tuesday, Williams said there had been no response from TAMWU to the board regarding the vote, so he had no further comment to add.

Morton and Rue said the committee members have not heard from the board and found out about the decision when the press release went out June 23. The committee is planning to discuss what course of action to take with members to determine how to move forward. 

The workers have been organizing under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME.) While AFSCME primarily represents public employees it does have a division representing cultural institution employees, such as those who work at museums. 

The museum’s new executive director, Andy Maus, who started in the position June 6, said he had no comment specific to the union organization.