Frequently Asked Questions

What is a union and why would we need one at the Tacoma Art Museum?

A union is an organization formed by workers who come together and use their collective strength to have a voice in the workplace. Through our union, we have the ability to negotiate from a position of strength with TAM over wages, benefits, workplace health and safety, job training and other work-related issues. With a union, management must bargain in good faith over conditions of our employment. Unions also serve an important role in holding management accountable for treating workers with respect.  We—staff from across the museum—comprise our union. We will decide what priorities to negotiate, and we will elect our own leadership to uphold and enforce the terms of our contract.

What are we voting on in the upcoming union election? If I vote “yes” in the upcoming election, does that mean I am a TAM Workers United member? Can I abstain?

The upcoming union election will be a yes/no vote on having our union, TAM Workers United, represent us at TAM so that we can make our voices heard for livable wages, better benefits, safe working conditions, and more.

All of us who are union-eligible employees have the right to cast our vote in the upcoming election. You can also choose to abstain. If you are not eligible to be in the union, you cannot vote in the election. 

Your vote in the election is separate from your choice to become a union member, and both decisions will determine how strong our union is.

I don’t think we need a third party coming between us and management and telling us what to do.

We are the union. We will decide what to negotiate for in our contract and we will elect our local union officers. We have the backing of the largest movement of cultural workers via the Cultural Workers United national network. By joining WFSE, we also join over 47,000 public service workers in Washington State who have our back and by joining AFSCME, we also join 1.4 million public service workers who will support us, along with resources like experienced negotiators, attorneys, researchers, and organizers. AFSCME is the leading union for representing museum professionals nationally and covers workers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), the Museum of Tolerance, Milwaukee Public Museum, and other cultural institutions. Recently, employees at the Academy Museum, MOCA, PMA, and Walker Art Center all won representation with AFSCME.

What does the process of organizing a union look like? How long will it take?

We spent over five months talking with our coworkers to organize our union and built over 80% support for unionizing. Now that we have asked TAM to voluntarily recognize our union, we will rally community support and continue to urge TAM to respect our legal right to unionize without intimidation or coercion and recognize our union. Upon recognition of our union, we will elect our bargaining team, decide on our bargaining priorities, and then sit down with management to negotiate a contract that reflects our priorities.

What happens after we win our union election?

After we win our union election, we will prepare to bargain our first contract. We’ll share our ideas for what we want to see in our contract, and elect our fellow union members to be on our Bargaining Committee. Those of us on the Bargaining Committee will be trained by union negotiators on bargaining strategies and will determine priorities and strategies for bargaining. Our Bargaining Committee and union negotiators will then sit down with management to negotiate a contract that reflects our priorities.

Who is eligible for our union?

The NLRB has rules that prohibit those who are truly managers, supervisors, and confidential employees from joining our union. Under labor law, such categories are narrowly defined and are not determined by your title.

    • Managers are generally top-level decision or policy makers for the organization and have substantial independent budgetary authority.

    • Supervisors have independent authority to hire, fire, discipline, grant time off, promote and determine job descriptions for other employees. Supervision of outside vendors, independent contractors or student interns generally does not count as supervisory authority.

    • Confidential employees have access to management’s confidential position in labor-relations matters, such as negotiations. It does not refer to access to other types of confidential information, e.g., details about TAM members or donors.

Is it legal to unionize?

Yes! It is our legally protected right to form our union according to the National Labor Relations Act. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate, intimidate or engage in any type of surveillance. They are also not allowed to interrogate employees about their support for their union. No employer handbook or contract can take away that right. Learn more about your rights here. However, our best protection comes from standing together with a majority of our coworkers in support of our union.

Why should I become a union member? Will we have to pay union dues? What happens if I don’t become a union member?

Our union is only as strong as we choose to make it. By becoming union members, we can make our union strong through our active participation and collective solidarity. As union members, we can run for and elect our leadership, and contribute ideas to and vote on our contract. You can become a member by signing a union authorization card; if you’ve already signed a card, you’re a member!

Union members pay 1.5% dues. That’s $1.50 for every $100 we earn or a little more than 7 minutes of each work day. None of us will pay any dues until we have negotiated our contract and voted to approve it. 

Together, we will fight for a strong contract that makes that money back and more in things like salary raises, better benefits like health insurance, and cost of living increases. We’ve already won free parking and have gotten that money back into our paychecks - let’s keep fighting to win what we deserve! 

Dues go toward making sure we and our WFSE/AFSCME union siblings have more power at the bargaining table, in the legislature, and in our communities. Dues are distributed between WFSE/AFSCME Council 28, our 52 Locals, and our national affiliate, AFSCME. Dues fund organizing campaigns - like ours! - plus member representation, enforcement of rights, contract negotiations, and support, communication, and education for members plus membership participation in legislative and policy advocacy. 

If you choose to not become a union member, you will pay .94% dues and be a representation fee payer. You will not be able to run for or elect union leadership or contribute ideas to and vote on our contract. You will be represented by our union and covered by the contract, and your dues will go towards the cost of representing our union. 

What will our raises be? What else can we win in our contract? When will we get a signed contract?

We get to decide what to fight for in our contract, including raises. Our contract can cover wages plus benefits like health insurance, paid time off, free parking or transit cards, and working conditions such as protection from layoffs, professional development, pathways to promotion, hiring policies, protection from discrimination and harassment, clear discipline policies, safety policies, performance review policies, financial transparency, grievance procedures if management violates the contract, and more. After our Bargaining Committee negotiates our contract, we will vote to approve it and then it will go into effect.

I have a good relationship with my supervisor…

That’s great; many of us do have good relationships with our immediate supervisors, but this isn’t about individual supervisors. This is about us, the workers, having a voice. Supervisors change all the time and are limited in what they can do for employees. When we form our union, policies will be clearer and more consistent, which will make our supervisor’s job more defined and our relationship even better. 

Now that we have a new Executive Director and HR Director, management is finally listening and says they are going to fix things. I think we should give them a chance.

 It’s great that management is finally hearing us. If they are sincere about making changes, it shouldn’t be an issue to sit down with us as a union, negotiate improvements and put them into a contract. Our union will help create policies and initiatives created by and for employees. We are the experts of what we need and should help determine the policies that impact us most. We can’t afford to wait any longer to have a voice in decisions that affect us. 

As a union, we hope to work in partnership with TAM management now and in the future to ensure a vibrant and sustainable TAM, and respect for us on the job. Our union is about us, the workers, having a voice. Management changes all the time and supervisors are limited in what they can do for employees. When we form our union, policies will be clearer and more consistent, which will make our supervisor’s job more defined and our relationship even better with management. 

We’ve also already won significant - and long-overdue - changes we need as a union, like free parking for all staff (not just those of us who are union-eligible), and stood up for one another in Visitor Services and Education. We’ll keep working together to improve TAM for one another and our community. 

Will we be forced to go on strike?

Strike votes can be a powerful tool when union members decide they are needed. The decision whether to authorize a strike can only be made by us, and only if the overwhelming majority of us deem it necessary. Fewer than 2% of contract negotiations result in a strike happening, so this is unlikely. To get to a good first contract that we will be able to build on, there are many things we can do before taking such action.

Are there legal protections for workers even if we haven’t signed a contract yet?

Yes! Right now, we have the legally protected right to organize our union according to the National Labor Relations Act. It is illegal for TAM to retaliate, intimidate or engage in any type of surveillance as we organize. They are also not allowed to interrogate us about our support for our union. No employer handbook or contract can take away that right. 

Additionally, once we win our union election, we will have Weingarten Rights.  These rights enable us to have a union representative with us at discussions with management that we reasonably think could lead to discharge, discipline, demotion, or other adverse consequences to our job status or working conditions. We will have the right to not participate in the discussion with management until our union representative is present. 

During the time period between winning our election and accepting our first contract, management will also have to negotiate any changes they want to make that are mandatory subjects of contract bargaining, like wages, hours, and working conditions.

Will we lose our flexibility? Will unionization make it harder to grow and change within our job descriptions?

We get to decide what to bargain for in our union contract - not only to address what we want changed, but also to protect the aspects of our jobs that we like. 

Flexibility at TAM comes with both positives and negatives. Flexibility in some of our jobs may enable us more creative autonomy while flexibility for others enables management to overwork us and continue to leave job vacancies open.

Right now, we have no guarantee that management won’t just take away the flexibility we like nor do we have a way to hold them accountable for overwork and understaffing. Once we win our union, though, we will have a voice in those decisions through contract negotiations. We can fight to protect our creative autonomy while protecting ourselves against exploitation, and for professional development opportunities and pathways to promotion to make it easier to grow and change within our jobs and move up within TAM. 

Will management be able to discipline us more once we win our union?

Right now, without union recognition, management can discipline or terminate us with little accountability or transparency. We are at-will employees and do not have a voice in disciplinary policies at TAM. 

Once we win our union in the election though, management will neither be able to continue acting unilaterally nor discipline us more. We will gain protection through our Weingarten Rights, and we can negotiate for more protections in our union contract including just-cause protection (meaning management cannot fire us without cause), clear progressive discipline policies that we have input on rather than discipline being left to the whim of individual managers, and grievance procedures that grant us due process to hold management accountable if they do not fairly adhere to our union contract.

How might the union encourage equity and inclusion, and alleviate racism, sexism, transphobia, sexual harassment, homophobia, ageism, ableism, and all forms of discrimination and harassment?

Our union contract can create mechanisms to address specific instances of discrimination and harassment, and also help change the systemic nature of these issues and what perpetuates these forms of harm in the workplace. 

We can fight for protective language in our contract around respect, non-discrimination, and reasonable accommodation to ensure a respectful workplace free of harassment. If any of us experience racism or any other form of discrimination or harassment that violates the protections in our contract, we will be able to file grievances and have union representatives help us fight against this and ensure we are safe at work. 

Our union will also enable us to bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions so that we can improve pay equity, lack of benefits, and unsafe working conditions that have disproportionate impacts on and perpetuate harm against queer and trans workers, Black and brown workers, women workers, and disabled workers. 

How might unionization impact the financial challenges TAM is in right now?

We are unionizing to ensure a vibrant and sustainable future for ourselves and TAM, and the financial challenge facing our institution is something we hope to work in partnership with TAM leadership to remedy. We recognize that TAM is neither in a financial challenge because we are overpaid nor do we seek to financially destabilize TAM through unionization. We seek livable wages, fair benefits, and respect at work, and a vibrant future for TAM so that we can continue doing the work we love. 

When we sit down with management to negotiate our union contract, we will bring forward reasonable economic proposals to address longstanding pay inequities at TAM. During negotiations, TAM will also have to share a lot of information with us to understand the current financial situation. 

Our union contract can also help ensure greater financial stability for TAM. By guaranteeing the wages, raises, and cost of living adjustments for the majority of staff, our contract can help TAM create accurate and stable financial projections several years in advance. We can also negotiate for greater financial transparency from management to staff, too, to improve communication and accountability. 

Who are our union representatives and what do they do? Will we have to answer to them?

Union representatives can be Organizing Committee members, Bargaining Committee members, stewards, union officers, and union staff. 

During our fight for recognition, we have elected our peers to be on our Organizing Committee and lead our campaign. Once we win our union, we will elect our peers to be on our Bargaining Committee and negotiate our contract with management. Our peers who we have elected representatives are accountable to our union, and represent our collective needs. 

Once we secure our first contract, stewards will be coworkers who will help resolve issues between you and management if you file a grievance. Essentially, they are someone with a great understanding of our contract who makes sure our contract isn’t being abused by management.

Union officers are WFSE members who we elect to lead our union at the local and executive levels. 

Union staff are WFSE staff we work in partnership with. During our fight for recognition, we work with WFSE Organizers. Once we win our union, we will work with Labor Advocates and Council Representatives who will help us negotiate our contract and then enforce our contract with management. WFSE staff are here to help us win our union, win our contract, and defend our contract from management. We don’t answer to WFSE staff; we work in partnership with them to build and sustain our union.

What is a grievance procedure in a union contract? 

Union contracts typically include a grievance procedure, which provides due process to a member (or the union as an organization) if a problem arises during the contract or if management is not fairly adhering to the contract. Though many grievances are resolved quickly and informally, most contracts allow for unresolved grievances to be taken to an outside neutral arbitrator whose decision is legally binding.

Have more questions? Find an Organizing Committee member to chat! 

Your Organizing Committee is Carrie, Eden, Kellz, and Steve

Learn more about Cultural Workers United

Learn more about the Washington Federation of State Employees (AFSMCE Council 28/WFSE)