On Tuesday, security workers at the Frye Art Museum unanimously voted to form the Art Workers Union (AWU) in a 6-0 vote coordinated with the National Labor Relations Board.
Security workers at the Frye established AWU as a stand-alone union — unlike museum workers in New York who have also voted to unionize this year (at the New Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Tenement Museum) but joined larger, already-existing unions. Last week, staff at the Guggenheim in New York, including roughly 90 art installers and facilities workers, also went public with their petition to unionize.
“We are excited to help the Frye Art Museum live up to its high standards, and are excited to help the museum become an even better institution that holds itself accountable to the community it serves,” security worker and AWU co-founder Sander Moberg said in a statement.
The Frye responded with a statement of its own, saying it recognizes AWU and its right to collectively bargain with the museum: “We look forward to a productive discussion approached in good faith.”
Since the election, workers at other Seattle arts institutions have approached AWU, asking for guidance on how to get started. “Our suggestion to all aspiring unionists is to start having meetings with your co-workers,” security worker and AWU member Caitlin Lee said. “Our union didn’t come out of nowhere. It took months of meetings as a group and in person, coordination and planning.”
The Frye challenged the eligibility of four potential AWU voters, classifying them as “supervisors” and taking them out of the pool for yesterday’s vote. Lee said AWU will continue its attempt to include them in the bargaining unit going forward.
In the days before the election, the Frye also distributed a FAQ (later provided to the Times by AWU) stating: “If there’s a Union, Frye Art Museum will no longer be able to respond to market changes to maintain [its] competitive wages and benefits … You will no longer be able to bring problems directly to Frye Art Museum management.”
Lee said the FAQ was misleading: “Very few of us would likely vote for a contract saying that we can’t talk to management.”
Next, AWU plans to elect a bargaining committee to begin negotiations with the Frye. Its top priorities, Lee said, are wages, scheduling, and transportation and healthcare support.