More Portland Museum of Art employees eye unionization in wake of successful vote

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Portland Museum of Art workers are waiting for the National Labor Relations Board to certify their newly formed bargaining unit this week before they can begin contract negotiations with the museum.

And even before that happens, PMA employees who were not allowed to cast ballots are reportedly preparing a separate unionization drive of their own.

The PMA workers who were eligible voted to join New York-based United Auto Workers Local 2110 by a vote of 16-10, museum spokesperson Graeme Kennedy said April 22. 

The National Labor Relations Board this week is expected to certify a union vote by Portland Museum of Art employees. (Portland Phoenix/Jenny Ibsen)

Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110, which represents office, technical, and professional workers, on April 26 said there is a seven-day period before the unit can be formally certified and that her organization will proceed with bargaining as soon as possible.

Rosenstein added she thinks it is a “testament to these workers’ courage” that they “stood up” to what she called a “relentless anti-union campaign.”

Workers filed a petition to join the union last September and were met with pushback from museum administrators, including a successful appeal by the museum to disqualify gallery ambassadors from voting in the union election because the museum considers them security staff.

Rosenstein said the workers’ decision to unionize is a testament to “how strongly people felt they needed a union.”

“I just feel tremendous respect and admiration for everything they have done, and we look forward to working with them,” she said. “We’re hopeful that the museum will take a different approach in negotiations to work with us to get a fair contract.”

The PMA’s Kennedy said via email the museum accepts the results of the election and looks forward to bargaining “in good faith” with Local 2110.

“We are dedicated to finding common ground throughout this process,” Kennedy said. He also said the museum will work with Local 2110 to ensure the museum’s “mission and values,” including “inclusivity, equity, and transparency,” are “reflected in any agreement.”

Michaela Flint, a union organizer and former gallery ambassador who was laid off in January, on April 25 said gallery ambassadors and security guards also plan to begin organizing their own union drive, which she plans to help with as much as she can “from the sidelines.”

After losing her job in January, Flint said she reapplied for a gallery ambassador position, but did not receive an “automatic reply” about her application being received.

The next day, she said, she heard the museum had “given the job to somebody else instantly.”

“I’m very suspicious,” Flint said. “The only job left for me is a seasonal job, but obviously I wouldn’t be qualified. I highly doubt I’ll ever be rehired by the museum.”

The museum added five full-time, full-benefit positions to the gallery ambassador program earlier this year, as well as seasonal positions, after laying off several employees. Kennedy said at the time the layoffs were unrelated to the union drive.

Ultimately, Flint said she is “really excited” for her former co-workers, and hopes nurses at Maine Medical Center are also successful in their pursuit of union representations.

“I’m just so happy,” she said. “This is history in the making.”