About 100 people gathered outside the Columbus Museum of Art Monday afternoon, many of them staff members, as employees announced plans to form a union.
Workers at the Columbus Museum of Art sent a letter to museum management asking them to recognize their union, formed in cooperation with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“Our goal is just to help the museum achieve its mission by helping to attract and retain the workforce needed to do that,” said Mark Harrison, a one-year employee at the museum and a leader of the union group.
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The response from museum management was positive, said Nicole Romey, one of the union’s leaders and a staff member for six years.
“They were enthusiastic. I believe they are trying to cooperate with us as much as they can and I think it will be an ongoing partnership,” Romey said.
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In a statement sent to The Dispatch, the museum responded: “The Columbus Museum of Art greatly values the talent and contributions of our colleagues who make it possible for the museum to serve our community every day. We respect our colleagues’ interest in engaging in a conversation about collective bargaining, as is their legal right, and we remain supportive and committed to all our staff, regardless of affiliation.
The decision by museum staff members to seek unionization comes just months after staff at the Wexner Center for the Arts filed for a union in March. They also partnered with AFSCME Council 8 and staff members from the Wexner Center for the Arts, who are still in the process of finalizing their union, and were also at Monday’s rally to show support for CMA staff.
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“There’s a limited amount of cultural institutions in Columbus, and we’re all pretty connected. We have common missions, so we’re here for each other,” said Matt Reber, who manages the center’s bookstore and is director of union staff. Some of these people reached out after we went public and we gave them support like, ‘If we can do this, you can do this,’ and they just took it and ran with it.
Why do Columbus Museum of Art workers want to unionize?
The decision of the members of the Wexner Center was an inspiration to the staff of the Columbus Museum of Art. Like other museums around the country, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which unionized in 2020. With other museums forming unions, the Columbus Museum of Art began to consider the option.
“The COVID was a jumping off point for us based on everything that was happening in the world and at the museum,” Romey said.
The concerns staff had were heightened by the pandemic, Romey said. In their letter, staff expressed frustration about the fall of 2020, when the museum “reduced the workforce by 30% and slashed budgets across the institution, leaving remaining staff with financial insecurity and grueling workloads.”
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According to the letter, staff members who were not fired not only had to carry a higher burden, but were also told to return to work, in place, despite what was described as a “changing COVID policy of persistent and poorly communicated. ” before vaccines were available.
An example of the paper cited was the popular Van Gogh exhibit in November, which drew record crowds during the pandemic. Staff, in the letter, said it raised more mental health and safety concerns.
The love of arts and artistic culture in Columbus is what keeps many of the staff members motivated, but they want to see a better work environment. The hope now is that directors of the Columbus Museum of Art will voluntarily choose to recognize their union, especially after the response the union has received personally, Romey and Harrison said.