Baltimore Museum Employees Unionize Amid National Labor Movement at Art Institutions

Staffers at the Baltimore Museum of Art voted 89-to-29 Thursday night to unionize amid an industry-wide movement to secure higher wages and better working conditions. BMA employees will join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 67, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.

AFSCME represents some 10,000 museum employees across the U.S. through Cultural Workers United, which includes staffers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and the American Museum of Natural History as members. Meanwhile the board of the BMA is still searching for a replacement for former BMA director Chris Bedford, who left in June to lead the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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The museum’s interim directors, Christine Dietze and Asma Naeem, said in a statement that they “respect the outcome of the election and the decision of our staff to unionize.”

Workers at the Baltimore Museum of Art announced plans to form a union last October. Among the changes the union sought were fairer wages, better job security, and input in museum policies that directly affected them, according to the union’s website. Many workers said they were inspired to embrace unionization in the wake of the pandemic, when front of house staff — who faced the greatest risk of contracting the virus — had little say in safety protocols and daily decision-making. BMA did not layoff or furlough employees during the pandemic, but mass layoffs at museums nationwide illustrated the preciousness of employment in the industry.

“I am incredibly proud of the workers at the BMA and my friends at AFSCME for a successful union election today,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement. “Coming from a union household, I know the power and agency that union membership affords workers. I am happy that more residents will be able to reap those benefits.”

The labor movement sweeping art museums shows no signs of slowing.

Over the past two years, large institutions such as the New Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Philadelphia Museum, as well as the MFA Boston and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, all formed unions. The Whitney Museum was among a small group of institutions to have seen their unions voluntarily and swiftly recognized by their leadership — the decision came just two weeks after employees filed a petition to join the Technical, Office, and Professional Union of Local 2110. (MOCA also voluntarily recognized its union).


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