BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Mayor Brandon Scott on Tuesday called on the Walters Art Museum to allow its employees to vote on unionizing, saying union membership helped his family join the Black middle class.

“Unions give workers the platform to unite and advocate for their own working conditions and deserve to be celebrated,” Scott wrote in a letter to the museum’s board of trustees. “Ultimately, the right of workers to organize and form collective bargaining units is a fundamental component of our democracy and, as such, must be protected.”

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Employees at the museum, organizing under the name Walters Workers United, announced in May 2021 their intentions to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 67, citing concerns over pay equity, the health and safety of employees, and “the museum’s top-down decision-making.”

Organizers applauded the museum’s January 2021 announcement that full-time hourly workers would make $15 per hour, and part-timers $13 per hour, and a new 10-year diversity plan. But Elizabeth Norman, an Assistant Manager of Gallery Experience at the museum and one of the organizers, said in an interview with the publication Bmore Art that, for her, “the missing piece is working fully in partnership with the staff to shape and create and then live that vision of what the museum could be.”

Walters Workers United is still seeking a vote on joining AFSCME, raising the issue last month at the City Council’s Taxpayer Night for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

In a letter, museum director Julia Marciari-Alexander said she did not voluntarily recognize the bargaining unit because “it is every employee’s responsibility to determine for themselves whether they want to unionize—and the best way to do that is through a confidential vote administered by the National Labor Relations Board.”

The signatures of Guy E. Flynn, president of the board of trustees, and James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr., chair of the board of trustees, were appended to the bottom.

Ahead of Labor Day weekend in 2021, Marciari-Alexander called a vote on union membership “crucial” for employees.

“Indeed, it is the only mechanism to ensure that each member of our staff is properly heard on the question of whether to have a union,” she said.

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Should the employees vote to join, the museum would “move expediently and in good faith to bargain with that union,” she said.

Scott, in his letter released Tuesday, said he recently helped negotiate a third-party election for employees at the Baltimore Museum of Art, who are also seeking to join AFSCME Council 67.

Workers will vote on July 14, per the unit.

“There is no reason for the Walters not to follow the path of the Baltimore Museum of Art in signing an election agreement and proceeding with an election conducted by a neutral third-party arbitrator,” the mayor said.

He cited multiple museums that have gone through the unionization process, including the Museum of the City of New York, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Echoing language from organizers, Scott said the museum is “ultimately an agency of the City of Baltimore” because it receives public funding.

According to the most recent budget, the city gave the museum $1.7 million for personnel costs and more than $230,000 for other expenses. Municipal grants are also awarded to the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Zoo.

The city is one of a handful of institutional funders providing grants to the museum, with the others being the State of Maryland, Baltimore County, Howard County, the Maryland State Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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“My administration stands with the employees of the Walters and its leadership in wanting a quick resolution to the unionization question,” he said. “I am offering a clear path toward resolution, and I sincerely hope that this Board will work with my administration on this matter.”

Brandon Weigel