As security workers at the Seattle Art Museum vote to unionize this week, they await the outcome of three unfair labor practice charges they’ve leveled against the museum. 

From Tuesday to May 31, about 65 of SAM’s internal security workers will vote in a National Labor Relations Board election on whether to form an independent union. Organizers said that if the vote succeeds the union will base its goals on a departmentwide survey. For now, the organizer’s goals include the reinstatement of a retirement matching plan, a mutually agreed upon process of escalating discipline, a seniority pay system, increased wages, and scheduled raises that factor in Seattle’s cost of living.

Since going public with their unionization efforts in January, union organizer Josh Davis said the workers have had many disagreements with SAM leadership. The security workers’ current union campaign is their second this year. SAM declined to voluntarily recognize the union representation in either campaign, leaving an NLRB election as the path to unionization.

The security workers first wanted to join the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, but were unable because of a statutory requirement in the National Labor Relations Act prohibiting the NLRB from certifying a union as the representative of security workers if it also represents nonsecurity workers, as IUPAT would. In the second campaign, they are forming an independent union to represent themselves, rather than being represented by a national or international labor union or a union federation.

The security workers, Davis said, also believe the museum has taken actions retaliating against them and has not been a neutral party throughout this process.

In a statement to The Seattle Times, SAM said the museum has not retaliated against any employee for seeking union representation.

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“SAM has been, and continues to be, neutral about whether its security guards are represented by a union,” the statement said. “We fully recognize and respect the right of all workers, including SAM security guards, to seek representation and would honor the decision if a majority of them, through a fair process and NLRB secret ballot election, vote to unionize.”

On March 3, the security workers filed two unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. The first charge was filed in response to an all-staff email SAM CEO Amada Cruz sent Feb. 8. In the email, Cruz voiced concerns that a union organizer had asked museum-affiliated artists, particularly artists of color, to sever ties with SAM if the museum did not recognize the union.

Davis said he is the unnamed union organizer in Cruz’s email, but he did not ask the artists to sever museum ties. Rather, Davis said, in the email — which he shared with The Seattle Times — he asked multiple artists to show support for the union effort in some fashion. The only two who responded in support, he said, were Black artists.

The second charge alleges the museum changed a union organizer’s work schedule in order to inconvenience them and decrease their compensation in retaliation for unionizing efforts. 

According to SAM, nobody’s schedule has been changed in retaliation for union activity and nobody’s compensation has been reduced. On Jan. 27, SAM announced a departmentwide restructuring for security staff, which the museum said had nothing to do with union efforts.

“Our security leadership worked hard to make sure that the scheduling resulting from the resturcre accommodated, as nearly as possible, each employee’s individual preferences,” SAM said in a statement.

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On March 23, union organizer Aselya Keyes filed her own unfair labor practice charge after the museum placed her on indefinite paid leave. Keyes said the museum’s human resources department accused her of harassing co-workers and violating SAM’s employee code of conduct.

SAM said a security worker — referring to but not naming Keyes — was recently terminated based on the results of an internal investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct made against that employee — not because of unionization efforts. 

When asked about Keyes’ allegations, a SAM representative said the museum “unequivocally denies” the allegations, knowing that its actions “were in full compliance with the law and intended to protect its staff.”

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