August 03, 2021

Art Institute of Chicago workers join AFSCME

More than 300 employees of the Art Institute of Chicago are coming together to form their union, the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU). The announcement came the morning of August 3 in a public letter signed by 60 employees who are part of the new union’s organizing committee.

“We believe there can be no equity without power sharing; therefore, we, the undersigned—staff members from various departments and diverse roles across the institution—are uniting to form our union,” the letter reads in part. “By negotiating a fair contract with management, we will work to realize the museum’s potential as a true leader among its peers.”

The letter notes that more than 200 museum employees were furloughed or laid off last year alone.

“We are organizing a union because we love the Art Institute, and we believe that what’s good for the workers is good for the museum,” technician Thomas Huston said. “We want to secure a better future for the workers who make the museum what it is.”

“The museum’s stated values include equity, sustainability and transparency, but it cannot make those a reality without listening to and understanding my coworkers’ needs and concerns,” said Sheila Majumdar, an editor in the museum’s publishing department. “If forming a union does nothing other than give us a clear line of communication with our leadership, that will be transformative.”

"Museum staff deserve an empowered voice in matters of our employment, compensation, and overall well-being,” reference librarian Kevin Whitener said. “For too long my coworkers and I have appealed to the museum administration for better conditions and have received empty promises or have found situations have worsened.  We deserve a workplace that is fair and treats us with respect, and this is our chance to make that happen.”

Stand in solidarity—take action!

All Art Institute employees “deserve a voice in the decisions that affect us; better wages and benefits; transparency around compensation and advancement, and equal access to these opportunities regardless of class, disability, gender, or race; safe working conditions, reasonable hours, and adequate resources to perform our jobs; and a workplace free of harassment”, the organizing committee’s letter says.

Unfortunately, their employer does not agree—and has already turned up the anti-union heat. These workers need to know they are not alone. They need the encouragement and firm backing of all of us. AFSCME is proud to be part of their fight. Please show your support for these workers by signing this online petition:

Art Institute workers join some 10,000 museum workers at 91 cultural institutions nationwide and more than 25,000 library workers at 275 public and private libraries, including the Chicago Public Library, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the MET, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. (MOCA), the American Museum of Natural History and many more.

“We are happy to welcome Art Institute of Chicago employees to our ever-growing AFSCME family,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “The museum is a Chicago icon, part of the heart of our city, and the employees are the heart of the museum. By coming together in their union, these workers can make the Art Institute a better place to work, visit and learn for all of Chicago.”

The organizing committee is now collecting union cards signed by their coworkers. When a strong majority have signed, AICWU will ask the museum to voluntarily recognize their union.

“Employees should be free to exercise their right to form their union without employer interference,” Lynch said. “The museum should not squander its resources—money or time—on anti-union attorneys, anti-union emails or anti-union meetings with workers.”

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