Employees at the Columbus Museum of Art plan to form a union
Around 100 people gathered outside the Columbus Museum of Art Monday afternoon, many of them employees, as employees announced plans to form a union.
Workers at the Columbus Museum of Art sent a letter to the museum’s management, urging them to recognize their union, which was formed in cooperation with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
“Our goal is to help the museum accomplish its mission by helping attract and retain the workforce it needs to do it,” said Mark Harrison, a year-long employee at the museum and chair of the union group.
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The response from museum management has been positive, said Nicole Romey, one of the union leaders and a staff member for six years.
“They were excited. I think they’re trying to work with us as much as possible and I think it’s going to be a lasting partnership,” Romey said.
Columbus Museum of Art employees join Wexner Center for the Arts employees in unionizing
In a statement sent to The Dispatch, the museum responded, “The Columbus Museum of Art greatly appreciates the talents and contributions of our colleagues that enable the museum to serve our community every day. We respect our colleagues’ interest in discussing collective bargaining, as is their legal right, and we remain supportive and committed to all of our employees, regardless of their affiliation.
The decision by museum workers to organize comes just months after workers at the Wexner Center for the Arts filed for a union in March. They also worked with AFSCME Council 8 and Wexner Center for Arts staff who are still in the process of finalizing their union, and were also at Monday’s rally to show their support for CMA staff.
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“There’s a limited number of cultural institutions in Columbus and we’re all quite connected. We have common missions, so we’re there for one another,” said Matt Reber, who runs the center’s bookstore and is one of the union’s senior staff. Some of these people came forward after we went public and we gave them the support like, ‘If we can do this, you can do that’ and they just took it and rode it.
Why do Columbus Museum of Art employees want to unionize?
The Wexner Center members’ decision was an inspiration for staff at the Columbus Museum of Art. As were other museums across the country, such as the Philadelphia Art Museum, which unionized in 2020. As other museums formed unions, the Columbus Museum of Art began considering this option.
“COVID has been a starting point for us for everything that’s happening in the world and at the museum,” Romey said.
Employee concerns have been compounded by the pandemic, Romey said. In their letter, staff expressed frustration over the fall of 2020, when the museum “reduced its workforce by 30% and cut budgets across the institution, leaving remaining staff with financial insecurity and grueling workloads.”
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According to the letter, the employees who were not laid off not only had to bear a greater burden, but were also encouraged to return to work on site, despite an “evolving and poorly communicated COVID policy,” before vaccines were readily available.
One example the letter points to was November’s popular Van Gogh exhibition, which drew record numbers during the pandemic. Staff said in the letter they added other mental health and safety concerns.
A love of art and the artistic culture in Columbus keeps many of the employees motivated, but they wish for a better work environment. The hope now is that Columbus Museum of Art directors will voluntarily recognize their union, especially after the response the union received in person, Romey and Harrison said.
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