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October 21, 2020

Portland museum faces unionizing attempt, and questions about who can be part of it

exterior of modern brick building with "7" sculpture Courtesy / PMA The Portland Museum of Art, at 7 Congress Square, is the site of a union organizing attempt by some of the 100 employees.

Employees at the Portland Museum of Art — including curators, educators, gallery personnel and security workers earning $14 an hour — are trying to unionize, and on Tuesday accused the museum of “anti-worker tactics.”

But Maine’s largest public art institution denied the criticism and said the PMA simply “does not believe that a union is right for our museum.”

In September, some of the PMA’s 100 employees petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a union election, citing low pay rates and job security as reasons for organizing. The workers want representation by the Technical, Office and Professional Union, Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, which includes about 3,000 workers in other museums, colleges and offices, primarily in New York.

The petition is believed to be the first labor organizing attempt in the museum's 138-year history, a spokesman told Mainebiz.

Recently, organizers and the PMA have contested which employees can and cannot be included in the local bargaining unit. Specifically, the two sides disagree about the inclusion of 29 gallery and security workers.

“Gallery ambassadors and security associates are among the lower paid staff members,” said Whitney Stanley, an associate registrar at the museum, in a news release. “It’s disturbing to see the museum fight our right to unionize so hard when they say equity, inclusiveness and accessibility are top priorities.”

But the museum said in its own news release that federal law prohibits employees with security responsibilities from being in the same bargaining unit as other employees. The museum also claims that prohibition was brought up by the NLRB, the quasi-government organization that enforces U.S. law related to collective bargaining.

“This is not a novel or anti-union position,” the PMA said in the release.

The NLRB held a hearing on the matter last week, but no decisions or actions have been announced yet.

In addition, the museum said it has been making the needs of employees a top priority, as demonstrated by the decision to retain staff during the pandemic. Benefits and pay also are competitive with other museums represented by Local 2110, the PMA claims.

“We have taken unprecedented steps to protect our staff through an unforeseen global pandemic and economic meltdown, but unfortunately, we have been painted with broad strokes as an adversary online and in public by union organizers,” PMA Director Mark Bessire said in the release.

“The PMA wants to be sure that all staff members fully understand the pros and cons of unionization before they vote.”

Employee organizers also criticized the PMA’s request for an in-person election, rather than a mailed ballot, to decide the fate of the organizing attempt.

“The museum keeps saying that the safety of the staff is paramount, but insisting that we vote in person, when we could have a mail ballot election doesn’t show a lot of concern for our health and safety,” gallery ambassador Suzanne Murphy said in the release.

The museum’s release again pointed to the NLRB.

“The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) favors in-person voting when possible and we agree — we are willing and ready to hold the election at the museum on the dates and times that the union organizers have suggested," the PMA said. “We are not interested in making voting harder for our staff. We want everyone who is eligible to vote to do so.”

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October 21, 2020

Seriously? $14 an hour is pretty decent for a museum. It's not like they are using specialized skills and knowledge. If a job has great risk or requires a high level of specialized knowledge, they would deserve a better paycheck. See, the way it works is, if you are better than your current employment, you go get another job at a higher rate of pay. Unions best function is to insure a healthy workplace as opposed to a toxic work environment. Extra pay never satisfied a worker enough to stop complaining.
Just move on.

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