Majority of Seattle Art Museum security guards vote to form a union

SEATTLE — The Seattle Art Museum’s security workers voted to form an independent union in a 38-4 majority vote Tuesday.

In a Zoom call, an agent for Region 19 of the National Labor Relations Board publicly counted each of the ballots submitted by the security workers, called visitor service officers (VSOs). There were approximately 57 eligible voters. One ballot was challenged, but its outcome will not affect the vote.

“It’s a really big relief,” union organizer Josh Davis said. “The biggest challenges of these campaigns is just sitting with the unknown of what is going to be happening next at work, and the kind of chaotic things that have happened since we started the campaign. So it’s really validating and exciting to see everybody still with us.”

The union, which will be called the SAM VSO Union, is the result of an effort that has been in the works for nearly a year and is part of a national movement of museum employees seeking unionization, including security workers at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum who unionized in 2019.

Both the union and the museum can file objections to the election through June 7, which the union does not intend to do. If no objections are made in that time frame, the NLRB regional director will issue a certification of the results of the election, and the union will be formalized. If an objection is made, there could be hearings or briefings, which take time and money, according to Kelly Skahan, an associate attorney representing the union.

A SAM spokesperson did not comment directly on whether the museum would file an objection to the election.

“We will follow NLRB process and wait for the NLRB to certify the election results but, as we have maintained throughout this process, we respect the decision of a majority of voters,” a statement from SAM said.

This vote was a product of the security workers’ second attempt to unionize since January.

The first attempt, in which the security workers wanted to join and be represented by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 116, was unsuccessful. A statutory requirement in the National Labor Relations Act prohibits the NLRB from certifying a union as the representative of security workers if it also represents nonsecurity workers, as IUPAT does.

The security workers also pushed for SAM to voluntarily recognize their union, which would negate the need for an NLRB vote, but SAM did not, citing the statutory requirement.

In this second effort, the security workers voted to form an independent union and represent themselves, rather than join an existing union.

After certification of the vote, the union and the museum would begin negotiating a contract. The union’s goals include the reinstatement of a retirement matching plan, a mutually agreed-upon process of escalating discipline, a seniority pay system, increased wages and scheduled raises that factor in Seattle’s cost of living

“It kind of doesn’t feel real, in a certain sense, because we’ve been at work at this for so long,” union organizer Ryan Durr said. “It’s also the start of a long road ahead of us with the next stuff we have to do.”

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