Another Viewpoint: Union organizers paint false picture of Portland Museum of Art

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Over the past several months, local media has published numerous reports of efforts to unionize staff at the Portland Museum of Art. However, there is a significant group of staff members across the PMA who question whether unionizing is in their best interest or that of the museum.

We are not anti-union; we do not, however, believe a union is necessary at the PMA. While we recognize the importance of collective bargaining, we have not received enough information to justify unionizing at the museum.

Portland Museum of Art. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

Time and time again over the past year, Local 2110 and our unionizing colleagues at the PMA have not only spoken on behalf of the entire staff without our consent, but they have also withheld information and facilitated the unjust vilification of our museum and colleagues in the media. The picture that Local 2110 has painted – of “union-busting” leadership staff who are dismissive and unwilling to listen – is at best, incorrect, and at worst, insulting.

What we know to exist is an open, inclusive leadership team that goes out of its way to provide opportunities for staff engagement and dialogue. This is the same leadership team that has transformed PMA over the last 10 years to create a stronger museum community focused on inclusivity and accessibility for all.

The museum’s public achievements show this, but it is also reflected in our market-based salary bands, progressive and generous paid-time-off policies, heavily subsidized health-care plans for staff and their families, and numerous other benefits, including professional development opportunities at all levels and the flexibility to adjust job descriptions to match the employee’s strengths and interests.

This is not to say that the opportunity for change and improvement is nonexistent. The PMA is not a static being; it is dynamic and constantly responding to the needs of the community and of our teams. This is evidenced by an admirable response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and enduring grace in the face of animosity. One of PMA’s greatest strengths is this group of leaders who recognize the constant need to be better, their transparency and honesty as they work to do so, and their willingness to be leaders within our industry.

It is because of this trust in leadership that the unionization process at the PMA has been deeply troubling for many staff members. Our unionizing colleagues have not shared with all staff their concrete reasons for unionizing, nor have they disclosed how they came to choose Local 2110 to represent us, despite requests to do so.

Staff members who have asked the union questions or expressed hesitancy have been intentionally excluded from the meetings that our organizing colleagues regularly hold, and the meeting minutes have not been made available to all staff. Similarly, this group has refused to say what they want to see changed and have made no attempt to work with leadership to achieve these undisclosed goals, despite being invited to speak with any member of the leadership staff countless times. Organizing staff has unilaterally and impulsively decided that forming a union is the only viable option for museum employees – not as a last resort, but as the first course of action.

Since filing, unionizing staff and Local 2110 have established a media campaign based on divisive and negative rhetoric that has damaged and discredited the museum that we love and take pride in. This has pitted our staff against each other and alienated those who were excluded from the decision to petition, who question whether unionizing is in the best interest of staff or our institution, and who have been denied information and opportunities to honestly discuss unionization with their colleagues.

This is in stark contrast to PMA leadership who, throughout the unionization campaign, have encouraged conversation and answered all questions asked of them, supporting employees as they came to their own conclusions about the union. While Local 2110 and our unionizing colleagues have practiced exclusionary tactics that go against their stated values of unity and respect, PMA leadership has been supportive, forthcoming, and democratic.

Despite being denied the opportunity to work with unionizing staff on these undisclosed issues, PMA leadership has expressed from the beginning that they will honor and respect the outcome of the election and move forward in fairness and in good faith. But should the union pass, how can those staff who have been excluded from and hurt by this process trust Local 2110’s ability to guide us in good faith through the collective bargaining process?

Based on this lack of inclusive and thoughtful leadership by Local 2110 and organizers, their withholding of information, and their misleading and hurtful tactics, we are deeply concerned.

Jim Ross is the office administrator at the Portland Museum of Art. He writes on behalf of several staff members in the PMA’s Business, Curatorial, Museum Experience and Safety, Operations, and Philanthropy departments.