In an election conducted July 14 by the American Arbitration Workers, employees at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) voted 89–29 (with 22 abstaining) in favor of forming a union. In doing so, they joined their peers at numerous arts institutions across the country who have unionized in recent years as the Covid-19 crisis and the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent global calls for racial equality have spurred important conversations about the treatment staff should expect from their employers. BMA workers first announced their push to unionize in fall 2021, and moved swiftly thereafter.
The Baltimore Museum of Art Union will operate under the aegis of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 67, which represents government workers, teachers, and medical staff across Maryland. The new union will include among its ranks retail staff, conservators, curators, security guards, facilities workers, marketers, installers, educators, and others. Like their colleagues at institutions nationwide, BMA workers pointed to issues of pay equity, shift precarity, job opportunities, and health and safety as galvanizing concerns.
The Baltimore Museum of Art has had an especially tempestuous few years, having seen its director, Christopher Bedford, depart to lead the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art after weathering a kerfuffle over the BMA’s plans to deaccession work by famous white male artists partly in order to fund purchases of works by women and artists of color. The BMA’s interim directors Christine Dietze and Asma Naeem in a joint statement acknowledged that they “respect the outcome of the election and the decision of our staff to unionize.”
“I am incredibly proud of the workers at the BMA and my friends at AFSCME for a successful union election today,” said Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott 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.”