Art Institute of Chicago employees continue organizing efforts


Employees and supporters of the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) gathered outside the museum on September 22 for a press conference to publicize their organizing efforts. If successful, they will become the first major Chicago museum to form a union.

The Art Institute joins a growing organizing drive among art museums across the country. For example, Guggenheim workers voted to form a union, with Three other major New York museums. Institutions across the country are following suit as the popularity of unions continue to grow.

The pandemic has led to layoffs and time off, and AIC employees are demanding higher wages and better working conditions. The finished museum 76 workers in 2020 and on leave 109 employees This year. The accumulation of layoffs alongside the financial stress of the pandemic triggered the formation of the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU).

According to AICWU, “Unionized staff at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, MIT, the Chicago Public Library, Harvard, the Library of Congress and many other cultural and educational institutions have been able to improve their wages, benefits and rights in the workplace effectively through collective bargaining.

The organizers announced their union campaign on August 3, 2021 in a public letter signed by many employees. If successful, the union would represent more than 300 non-management positions, including art installers, curators, curators, librarians and retail workers.

While the movement first started among AIC workers, workers at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) would also be represented in the union. According to Chicago Tribune, the school terminated 65 full-time, 12 part-time and 26 contract positions in 2020. About 300 educational advisers, administrative assistants, mailroom employees and other staff would be included in the union. .

Organizers collected signature cards from AIC and SAIC employees, where a majority voted to form a union. On September 22, members of the AICWU organizing committee sent Formal letters at the museum by asking them to grant voluntary recognition to workers to form their union.

If the museum management voluntarily recognizes their union, it will be certified by the National Council on Industrial Relations (NLRB) – an independent federal body that guarantees fair labor practices nationwide. Once certified, AIC management will be legally obliged to negotiate a union contract accepted by the employees.

However, according to the AICWU, the museum management has hired anti-labor lawyers and public relations consultants, who use anti-union tactics such as spreading anti-union sentiments.

“They use tactics such as sending emails to all staff filled with anti-union rhetoric, coaching management in anti-union talking points, disinformation from employees that we are not eligible for representation. union and the suffocation of open forums when union supporters speak ”, AICWU organizers wrote.

According to Institute of Economic Policy, American employers collectively spend $ 340 million a year on consultants to avoid unions.

Organizers and community members criticized the museum’s decision to hire law firm Cozen O’Connor and public relations management consultancy, Reputation Partners.

“We think museum patrons, students and alumni would be upset to know this is happening as senior management told staff they were forecasting a budget deficit for fiscal year 2022,” Myia said. Brown, member of the organizing committee, deputy director. career and professional experience at SAIC.

The September 22 conference ended with a walk down Michigan Avenue, stopping in front of the museum. Organizers and supporters gathered on the steps between the iconic lion statues, which symbolize union.

Prominent Chicago politicians attended the press conference to show their support, including

State Senator Celina Villanueva, vice chair of the Illinois Senate Labor Committee; State Representative Marcus Evans, Chairman of the Illinois House of Representatives Labor and Commerce Committee and Alderman Sue Sadlowski-Garza, Chairman of the Chicago City Council Committee on Workforce Development of work.

Organizers continue to collect employee signatures to further encourage museum management to voluntarily recognize employee unionization efforts. If AIC and SAIC refuse to do so, employees will hold a union election.

“We are writing history together as AICWU,” said Brown. “It is an incredible feeling to know that we are united, united, with a strong majority of our colleagues, supporting each other and our union.

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