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.

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.

Why should I sign a union membership card?

Our union is as strong as we make it. We are the union and our power comes from our collective solidarity. By becoming a union member, we have the right to run for our local union leadership, vote on our leadership, and vote to accept our union contract negotiated with TAM. The more of us who choose to unite together as union members, the stronger our union will be.

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.

Will we have to pay union dues? I don’t know if I can afford to.

Dues ensure that we have the resources to maintain our organization. Nobody will pay dues until we have successfully negotiated our contract and a majority of union members have voted yes to approve it. Who would vote for a contract that isn’t worth their dues? Dues for our union will be 1.5% or $1.50 for every $100 we make. 

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. 

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, and 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. 

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 very unlikely. To get to a good first contract that we will be able to build on, there are many things we can do before considering taking such action. 

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.

Learn more about Cultural Workers United

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