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Tacoma Art Museum workers unionize after a yearlong struggle

Photo: WFSE/AFSCME Council 28
Tacoma Art Museum workers unionize after a yearlong struggle
By Gillian Fulford, Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE)/AFSCME Council 28 ·

TACOMA, Wash. – After 12 months of fighting for their union, workers at Tacoma Art Museum have voted overwhelmingly to form Tacoma Art Museum Workers United (TAMWU).

This yearlong campaign brought workers from multiple departments together, the first museum workers union in Washington to do so. The workers had overwhelming support from Pierce County labor organizers, political advocates, community groups, artists, and more.

TAMWU’s bargaining unit now represents 26 workers and is affiliated with the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE)/AFSCME Council 28.

Activists at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) began organizing in 2022 to address stagnant wages, unsafe working conditions, high turnover and systemic inequity within the museum. They organized for the well-being of the museum itself, which had recently fallen on hard financial times, and to have an active role in decision-making.

Workers believe that TAM can only live up to its mission to “inspire broader perspectives and cultivate a compassionate future” if TAM staff are treated with dignity and welcomed to contribute to those broader perspectives.

They hope that their success will encourage all cultural workers in Washington to organize with WFSE, creating a powerful force to raise standards and move the industry forward.

TAMWU is the first art workers union in Washington state to successfully organize workers across departments. Workers in customer-facing front-line positions as well as administrative staff will be protected within the same agreement, providing a united front and increased solidarity throughout the entire museum.

“It was really important that this union included as many people as possible,” said Carrie Morton, TAM's museum store manager. “One of the reasons we decided to form a union is to fight for more equity as an institution. Fighting for everyone was a core tenet of us unionizing.”

Unions, elected officials, artists, community organizations, and local businesses showed an incredible outpouring of support for TAMWU, showing up at multiple rallies at the museum. Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and the entire Tacoma City Council penned a letter to the TAM Board of Directors urging them to recognize TAMWU and proceed to an election.

“It feels great to be a founding member of this union,” said Miles Byrd, a visitor services worker. “I’m really proud of what we were able to do, to see the community at TAM come together and see how much we care about each other. That’s made me feel really good about being here.”

Through its Cultural Workers United campaign, AFSCME represents more cultural workers than any other union, including 10,000 museum workers at 91 cultural institutions in the public and private sectors, and more than 25,000 library workers at 275 public and private libraries.

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