The effort by employees of the Portland Museum of Art to form a union has received the support of 40 state legislators, who signed a letter asking museum management to recognize their employees’ right to organize without retaliation.

“The decision to organize is a fundamental right and should be up to the workers to make that decision free from interference,” reads the letter. “Unfortunately, it is an all too common practice for employers to spend an extraordinary amount of resources on anti-union campaigns. This often includes hiring expensive legal consultants to engage in fear tactics aimed to create uncertainty and delay. We, as elected leaders and members of the community, are requesting that PMA not engage in any anti-union tactics. This is the worker’s decision to make.”

Rep. Mike Sylvester, a Democrat from Portland and co-chair of the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee, is the lead signer of the letter. Several other Portland legislators also signed it, including House majority leader Matt Moonen, Michael Brennan, Edward Crockett and Richard Farnsworth. The letter was addressed to museum director Mark Bessire and board chairman Cyrus Hagge.

Museum employees filed a petition to form a union with the Technical, Office and Professional Union Local 2110 UAW in September, citing low pay and lack of job security. They accused museum management of taking an anti-union stance. Museum management responded by saying it was not anti-union, but it didn’t believe a union was “right for our museum.”

Wednesday afternoon, museum management issued a statement reiterating that belief. “While the PMA fully supports the right of workers to unionize, PMA management believes that a union at the museum would have a negative effect on the existing level of communication and cooperation between staff and management,” the statement said, in part.

Workers will vote on the proposal to join the union in December. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in November that workers could vote by mail. The museum sought an in-person election. Ballots will be mailed Nov. 30 and must be returned to the NLRB by Dec. 21.

The labor board also ruled that approximately two dozen gallery ambassadors, some of whom work part time, are eligible to vote in the election. Approximately seven to 10 security guards are not eligible for representation in the same union as other employees, the board ruled. Museum management is appealing the board ruling allowing gallery ambassadors to organize, said Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110.

“We are very disappointed by that decision,” she said. “Our understanding from our legal counsel is that the ballots will still go out on Nov. 30 as scheduled. If an appeal is pending, we don’t know if the regional office will count ballots or hold them pending a decision (on the appeal) from Washington. We feel our case is strong, but it’s disappointing the museum would expend additional resources fighting this decision.”

The museum employs about 100 people.

In its statement, PMA said it was not seeking to delay or prevent a vote. “The election has already been scheduled by the National Labor Relations Board and will be held via mail-in ballot in early December. The museum is focused on ensuring all staff who are eligible to vote do so, and ensuring that all staff are well informed about the pros and cons of unionization,” the statement said.

“The PMA welcomes and encourages open communication amongst staff members at every level, and has actively incorporated staff input in numerous ways over the last several years – from improving and creating new policies for base pay, Vacation time, paid Parental Leave, paid Sick Leave, and annual raises, to hosting retreats, listening sessions, and workshops with staff that have guided our goals around Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) as well as shaped our next 5-year Strategic Plan.”

Rosenstein said employees, some of whom earn $13 an hour, are distressed the museum is spending money to resist the unionization effort and trying to convince them they are better off without representation. She also said they are grateful for the support of the Maine legislators, who urged museum management to allow employees to have a greater voice in determining their working conditions.

“These employees have a great love for their work and the museum. By forming a union, they believe they can better use their collective voice to help improve their working conditions, communication between workers and management and the valuable service this important institution provides to the community,” said the letter.


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