The Portland Museum of Art Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A second group of Portland Museum of Art employees have unionized, hoping to address working conditions, benefits, wages and job security.

Gallery ambassadors and security workers voted 11-7 to join the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America. This is the second union to form at the PMA since 2021. Around 70 of the museum’s 100 employees are now represented by unions.

Last week’s election follows years of contention around whether gallery ambassadors at the museum qualified under the museum’s first union, which formed in 2021. Some viewed their exclusion as a “union busting tactic.”

“We hope that the management of the Portland Museum of Art will use their principles in dealing with us and do so in good faith!” the new union said in a statement. “When the majority of the employees of the Portland Museum of Art unionized with UAW Local 2110 in 2021, we were excluded from this as security guards. Now we are moving forward with the support of the members of the department and our coworkers from the wider museum.”

Workers at the Portland Museum of Art unionized with United Auto Workers Local 2110, the Technical, Office and Professional Union, in 2021. At the time, they cited low pay and a lack of job security, among other concerns. They had sought to represent 70 employees, including seven security associates and 23 gallery ambassadors who provide customer service, education and exhibit interpretation.

But the Portland Museum of Art disputed that eligibility for the 30 gallery ambassadors and security guards, arguing that their roles were distinct from the other professionals because they perform security functions.


While waiting for a ruling on that case, museum management fired 14 gallery ambassadors prior to the final vote. The union then filed a complaint of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board, and the museum ultimately settled with the 14 employees to make one-time payments of $2,000 for 13 employees and $30,000 for one.

In regard to representation, the NLRB ultimately ruled in the museum’s favor, reasoning that the ambassadors qualified as guards.

“To us, the situation was grey enough that we were willing to take the risk and try to include as many people as possible – not just to have a larger, stronger union, but to represent as many people as possible so they could have protections,” UAW 2110 organizer Chelsea Farrell said. “I’m still very frustrated by (the decision). When you start organizing and forming a union, you really begin to realize that regardless of what department you’re in, there’s a lot of shared concerns with one another.”

The union moved on without the guards and ambassadors under the umbrella and ratified its first contract in November 2021. The UAW 2110 union currently represents roughly 50 philanthropic, graphic design, registrar, IT, curatorial and retail employees.

The contract secured “significant increases” in minimum wage rates, guaranteed wage increases, improved health-care and child-care benefits, and enforceable grievance procedures.

But in the wake of that NLRB dispute, security guards still sought workplace protections and started a union campaign in October 2023. The union brought the campaign public in early January, and won its election last Friday with an 11-7 vote. There are still some representation matters up in the air. The museum is disputing whether two members whom management considers supervisors can qualify for membership. The union is hoping to address this matter during contract bargaining.


Individual members of the new union declined to speak with the Press Herald, afraid of retaliation amid what they say is a union-busting campaign. Along with better wages and job security, the union is also looking for a seat at the table.

“(We want) to have our voices be heard and be taken more seriously,” the union said in a statement.

Dwayne Phillips, the national organizing director with the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, said the union is also preparing to file complaints with the NLRB over allegations that museum management is changing workplace rules and conditions of employment, which constitutes an unfair labor practice when a union is in place.

The museum declined to answer questions as it focuses on “bargaining in good faith.”

“We now turn our attention to working with this union toward a contract that will support the museum and our staff,” spokesman Graeme Kennedy said. “The PMA is guided by values of courage, equity, service, sustainability, and trust, and will work with SPFPA in good faith to ensure a dynamic and sustainable future for everyone at the museum.”

The UAW 2110 unit also is preparing to bargain for its second contract, which expires this year. Both unions hope for collaboration in that process.

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