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Majority of Denver Art Museum workers vote to unionize

Nearly 70% of eligible Denver Art Museum employees voted to unionize this week, despite what union officials call an intense anti-union campaign carried out by upper management.

“Now, the over 200 DAM workers from every department will have a voice to advocate for a culture at the museum that prioritizes employee and visitor experience over revenue,” union officials wrote of the 120-to-59 vote, which took place March 6 and 7.

In a prepared statement, museum officials said management supports employees’ right to unionize. They added that management is “grateful for all those who voted and exercised their rights in this process. The museum is committed to bargaining in good faith with the union toward a Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

The Denver Art Museum Workers United vote makes it the first unionized art museum in Colorado.

“We worked so hard to win our union,” said Trudy Lovato, a gallery host at the DAM, in a statement. “One of the best things about this process has been hearing from people in various departments, and learning about their expertise, skills, and concerns. I look forward to working together to build a workplace that creates an environment of mutual respect, and every member feeling as valued as they deserve.”

The Denver-based American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18 represents 55 museums and 129 cultural institutions around the country. More than a dozen alleged Unfair Labor Practice instances were noted by AFSCME on behalf of workers over the course of the organizing effort, according to documents reviewed by The Denver Post.

Denver-based American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18 (AFSCME) is the labor union that represents 55 museums and 129 cultural institutions around the country.

Allegations of unfair practices included denying temporary employees the chance to become full-timers after their contract finished, going against the museum’s alleged years-long practice of doing so. The move was unprecedented, according to the filings, and came during the middle of the union election.

Other allegations included employees receiving emails telling them they weren’t eligible to vote, being compelled to use paid time to join management-led meetings about the union effort, and being questioned about union activity on social media — “conceding surveillance of the individual employee’s protected concerted activity and giving the impression that similar protected concerted activity of other DAM employees is under surveillance,” according to the document, which was filed on Feb. 28.

“The museum is aware of an NLRB filing, where claims are made that the museum has violated the law during the union’s campaign,” DAM’s Andy Sinclair told The Denver Post. “We can assure you that the museum respects the legal right of employees to unionize and would not interfere with that right, or violate the law, in any way. The museum will respond to the filing and follow any required next steps with the NLRB. The museum will always support every staff member’s right to have their voice heard and we are committed to negotiating in good faith with the union to develop a Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

DAM workers will soon begin a contract campaign that will address staffing, career advancement, discipline, and wages that account for experience, tenure, and continuing inflation, union officials said. The moves follow the January announcement of some DAM workers’ intent to unionize, itself inspired by and related to a wave of union efforts that hit employers over the last two years.

The creative and cultural workers rallying and forming unions covers the high-profile SAG-AFTRA and Writer’s Guild of America strikes, which ran for much of 2023. Locals includes a recently announced drive at Colorado’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema locations, and previously, at the Mercury Cafe and Meow Wolf Denver.

Union officials on Thursday announced that Jefferson County Public Library employees have voted to unionize, following a law passed in summer 2023 that allowed county employees to join unions. That makes them the first non-law-enforcement unit to unionize, officials said.

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