Workers at the Milwaukee Art Museum recently went public with their unionization campaign. Workers are seeking a union and to affiliate with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, or IAM. Scott Parr is the Assistant Director of District 10 of the IAM.
“[Workers] would like to have an equal seat at the table with the Milwaukee Art Museum management folks. They want to talk about their wages and benefits fairness which they feel they have not gotten up to this point,” said Parr. “They feel like nobody is listening to them.”
Another major issue for workers is the misclassification of employees as part-time. Some workers are classified as part-time but then clock nearly 40 hours a week.
“They classify them as part-time because part-time employees are not entitled to any benefits,” said Parr.
The security guard workers at the Milwaukee Art Museum have been unionized with the IAM for decades, and Parr says that this has a motivating factor for other workers seeking to unionize as well. The IAM feels that the relationship between the security guard union and management has been a good one.
Parr said, “They honor our seniority, good healthcare, a defined benefit pension. They treat the guards very well, and I think that was a big factor in the rest of the people who work there saying ‘you know what, that sounds good to us. We would like to be treated fairly as well.’”
The unionization campaign started back in December, but changes to the workplace with the COVID-19 pandemic have spurred the effort in some ways, particularly with concerns around furloughs and job security. Parr told us that one worker with 20 years of seniority was furloughed while another worker with one year of seniority in the same classification was kept. Parr said, “there is something patently unfair about that.”
The museum workers are putting the fight for social justice as one of their three main goals, next to financial fairness and job security. A part of this is the desire of workers to make sure that the programs that they provide can reach students of color in Milwaukee and surrounding communities. It also means diversity within the workforce, at all levels. Workers want more diversity within the higher levels of management.
Parr said that a union contract can help with this. “A lot of people ask me, ‘well, how can a union effect that?’ My answer to that is ‘because we can get people appointed to interview committees, to hiring committees. We’ve got that in a lot of our union contracts and I think that the art museum would benefit from something like that. We want to help them, we want to be partners with them.”
The museum workers and the IAM are meeting with the Milwaukee Art Museum this upcoming Tuesday to ask for voluntary recognition of the union. The IAM and workers are asking for a process where an impartial member of the clergy would be invited to compare the union’s signed authorization cards against management’s employee list, and this clergy person would announce if a majority of employees signed or not.
“We don’t feel that they should take their employees through a long, drawn-out election period once they’ve spoken and said ‘Yes, we want the union’” said Parr.
If management refuses voluntary recognition, the IAM and workers are prepared to go to the National Labor Relations Board for an election.
Parr says that workers appreciate the support and encouragement of the community.
“If you’re in the art museum and taking a walk through, say ‘Hi’ to the people. Wish them luck in their organizing drive, wish that they get what they deserve.”