Message to the Board

Dear Tacoma Art Museum Board of Trustees and Leadership:

The Tacoma Art Museum is at a crossroads.

We believe TAM’s mission to “inspire broader perspectives and cultivate a compassionate future” can only be achieved if TAM staff are treated with dignity and welcomed to contribute to those broader perspectives. We bring this museum to life everyday, but our efforts have been undermined by un-livable wages, unsafe working conditions, no opportunity to provide input on policy, few avenues for review and advancement, a lack of accountability and transparency, as well as fear of retaliation when we raise concerns. 

Therefore, we, your colleagues, are excited to announce we have reached a supermajority of over 80% in support of unionizing.

We are forming TAM Workers United and are joining with the growing national movement of museum workers in Cultural Workers United (affiliated with WFSE / AFSCME Council 28 in Washington State). We urge TAM’s Board of Trustees to voluntarily recognize TAM Workers United as our union. 

These issues have long been apparent, and clearly contributed to the mismanagement of TAM and the sudden resignation of our Executive Director last month. With a better culture of transparency and accountability – and a staff empowered to address problems as they arose – many of TAM’s present challenges could have been avoided. We believe the problems at TAM are systemic and have persisted across many administrations. Changes at the top alone will not solve root issues. Instead, the change needed at TAM must come from the bottom up to ensure an equitable and successful future.

Like many museums, the pandemic intensified preexisting systemic issues at TAM. After significant layoffs, most of which were frontline staff in 2020, we continue to be hit hard with staff departures. Remaining employees are expected to fill these roles and maintain work levels without the resources, staff, or compensation to do so. Issues acknowledged in this letter disproportionately affect frontline staff, the most diverse of TAM’s employees.

TAM emphasizes a commitment to racial, gender, and disability justice and acknowledges that this work must begin internally with our own staff and board.” As staff are taking real steps to achieve these goals, we have not felt real change in our leadership culture or institutional support for authentic investments in community partners who have been under-represented at TAM for too long. 

We neither have a real voice in the decisions that affect us nor clarity or accountability around how decisions are made. Institutional decisions are often made without buy-in from the community and staff, or enough resources to carry them out. The lack of adequate safety training for frontline staff makes it clear that our health and security are not prioritized. The absence of cross-training and lack of consistent opportunities for evaluation and promotion restricts upward mobility and makes filling staffing gaps needlessly laborious. These are systemic issues and stand in the way of TAM fulfilling its mission. 

These conditions led us to turn to one another for solidarity.

In May of this year we began discussions that would lead us to form TAM Workers United. Together, we are championing a more equitable, dignified, and healthy work environment for all staff, volunteers, and community partners, present and future. We are invested in the health of the Museum and want TAM to be a vibrant contributor to our community.

We are calling on TAM’s Board of Trustees and Executive Committee, alongside the Senior Leaders Team, to work with us to implement the following changes: 

  1. No further staff reductions. Livable wages and benefits for all, supported by protected job roles and appropriate staffing levels. A transparent budget and fundraising strategy to support these goals.

  2. A voice in decisions that affect us and the future of TAM, including a union representative on the hiring committee for a new Executive Director and all senior management positions.

  3. Effective and accessible grievance procedures with identifiable feedback or followup, to create accountability at all levels and a workplace free of retaliation and harassment.

  4. Transparent opportunities for evaluation and advancement.

  5. Standardized and comprehensive hiring, onboarding, and training practices that prioritize safe, equitable, and dignified workplace conditions.

Now that we have reached a supermajority of support, we urge leadership to voluntarily recognize TAM Workers United as our union by Monday, October 24th.

Leadership can cultivate a compassionate future by honoring our legal right to unionize without facing intimidation or coercion. At a time of financial challenge and understaffing for TAM, we ask that leadership not waste resources on distributing anti-union propaganda, hiring anti-union lawyers, or holding mandatory anti-union meetings. 

As TAM Workers United, we want to collaborate with the Board of Trustees and the Senior Leaders Team to negotiate a fair and equitable contract that reflects our needs and uplifts staff, our community, and the museum itself. TAM Board President Jeff Williams has said that, “Everything we accomplish is due to our incredible staff, volunteers, and supporters. Without them, our efforts would be impossible.” We are hopeful the Board will live up to those words, and work together with us to further the accomplishments of TAM and our museum’s invaluable contributions to Tacoma.

We ask you to join us as we work together to create a more equitable and sustainable future for TAM.


TAM Workers United
WFSE / AFSCME Council 28