Workers at the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) in Ohio on August 29 revealed their plan to unionize, the Columbus Dispatch reported. Announcement of the scheme was attended by roughly one hundred employees and followed on the delivery to CMA’s management of a letter seeking recognition of the staff union, formed under the auspices of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The local branch of that organization, known as AFSCME Ohio Council 8, is also assisting workers at the nearby Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, who announced their own intentions to unionize back in March. The organization is still collaborating with staff there on completing the unionization process.
Workers from the Wexner Center attended the rally at which CMA’s projected unionization was announced in order to show their support for the effort, which the Dispatch notes has been greeted warmly by museum management.
“I believe they are trying to cooperate with us as much as they can and I think it will be an ongoing partnership,” CMA union leader Nicole Romey told the paper.
“The Columbus Museum of Art greatly values the talents and contributions of our colleagues, which make it possible for the museum to serve our community every day,” CMA said in a statement. “We respect the interest of our colleagues in engaging in a conversation about collective bargaining, as is their legal right, and we remain supportive and committed to all our staff, regardless of their affiliation.”
Among the concerns addressed by staff in their letter to CMA management was the recent reduction by 30 percent of the museum’s workforce, as well as cuts to the budget. The cost-cutting measures, which reflect those taken by arts institutions around the world in the wake of the presumed worst of the Covid-19 crisis, resulted in heavier workloads for remaining employees, many of whom additionally faced job precarity and the prospect of being forced to return to in-person work before vaccines were widely available.
“COVID drastically changed the nonprofit landscape and the experience of working for CMA,” said Mark Harrison, an events manager with CMA and a member of CMA Workers United, in a statement. “Staff were repeatedly exposed to unsafe working conditions without a meaningful voice in the decision-making process. Our hope is that organizing through CMA Workers United will ensure that CMA is better prepared to respond to the ongoing pandemic and any future emergency, while respecting its employees.”
Staff at museums across the United States have increasingly moved to unionize in recent years, among them Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Brooklyn Museum, Dia Art Foundation, New Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, all in New York; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.