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Cultural workers nationwide are rising up to secure a voice on the job

AFSCME President Lee Saunders speaks at a rally last year demanding a contract for workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Cultural workers nationwide are rising up to secure a voice on the job
By Kathleen Cancio ·

Thousands of museum and library workers across the country are organizing, winning union elections, demanding accountability and fighting hard to secure fair contracts. It’s a historic time for the AFSCME Cultural Workers United (CWU) organizing drive.

As we look forward to the continuing momentum in 2023, here are the highlights of CWU’s organizing successes in 2022:

  • 11 – (Chicago) Museum workers at the Art Institute of Chicago won their union election, officially forming the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU), AFSCME Council 31.

  • 12 – (Chicago) The next day, staff at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) followed suit and decisively voted to join AICWU. Here’s an AFSCME Now article on both units forming unions.

  • March 4 – (Columbus, Ohio) Workers at the Wexner Center for the Arts announced they were forming a union and affiliating with AFSCME Council 8.

  • April 13 – (Brooklyn, New York) The staff union at Brooklyn Children’s Museum expanded after more workers voted to join their union.

  • May 13 – (Los Angeles) Members of the Museum of Contemporary Art Union secured their first strong contract.

  • May 23 – (Columbia, Missouri) Workers at the Daniel Boone Regional Library won their union election and became the first active library union in Missouri.

  • May 25 – (New York, New York) Workers at the American Museum of Natural History voted to join the staff union through District Council 37.

  • June 14 – (Sonoma, California) Sonoma Valley Museum of Art workers won their union by a 93% vote, becoming Sonoma Cultural Workers United, AFSCME District Council 57.

  • July 14 – In two major victories for AFSCME CWU, workers at the Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD) voted 89-29 in favor of unionizing and the Academy Museum Workers United (Los Angeles) won voluntary recognition just two months after announcing their intent to organize.

  • Sept. 12 – (Baltimore) Workers at The Walters Art Museum, who have been fighting for union recognition since April 2021, sued the museum over their refusal to comply with a Maryland Public Information Act request.

  • Oct. 13 – (Chicago) Field Museum workers announced their intent to unionize with AFSCME Council 31.

  • Oct. 14 – (Philadelphia) After a historic 19-day strike, workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union secured their first strong contract, which includes across-the-board wage increases, four weeks of paid family leave and more affordable health care options.

  • Oct. 17 – (Tacoma, Washington) With 80% support from staff, workers at Tacoma Art Museum announced their intent to form a union under the representation of AFSCME Council 28. Read the AFSCME Now story on the unionization efforts at the Field Museum in Chicago and Tacoma Museum in Washington.

  • Oct. 20 – Workers from Utica Zoo and Croton Free Library — both in New York state — won their union elections.

  • Oct. 28 – Workers at the Columbus Museum of Art (Columbus, Ohio) won their union election by a 97% vote, workers at the Science Museum of Minnesota announced their organizing campaign with AFSCME Council 5, and Storm King Art Center Workers Union/CSEA Local 1000 filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

  • Nov. 2 – (Chicago) By an overwhelming margin, employees of the Newberry Library voted to form their union, Newberry Workers United, with AFSCME Council 31.

  • Nov. 18 - (Baltimore) Workers at Enoch Pratt Free Library overwhelmingly won their union election by a 218-12 vote.

  • Dec. 1 – (Los Angeles) Two months after going public with their campaign, the Academy Foundation Workers Union won voluntary recognition from management, becoming the third group of cultural workers in Los Angeles to win voluntary recognition.

  • Dec. 13 – (Chicago) Art Institute of Chicago non-tenure-track faculty won their union election by a 92% vote and became part of Art Institute of Chicago Workers United.

  • Dec. 21 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): Milwaukee Public Museum workers (AFSCME Local 526) successfully negotiated a 3-year contract that included a $15 wage floor, 2%-4% step increases through 2025, paid parental leave, restored 401(k) employer contributions and more.

  • Dec. 22 (Middletown, Connecticut): Workers at Russell Library (AFSCME Council 4 Local 1303-0085) voted overwhelmingly to ratify a contract that included raises, increased flexible vacation time, a higher education reimbursement and shoe allowances for facilities and security staff.

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