Graham Kilmer

MAM Union Ratifies First Labor Contract

After nearly a year of negotiations, union secures wage increases and worker protections.

By - Dec 23rd, 2021 05:39 pm
Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The union formed last year by workers at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) voted Tuesday to approve its first labor contract with the museum.

Workers at the museum began organizing in 2020 with support from the International Brotherhood of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which already represented the guards at the museum. In Nov. 2020, more than 70% of the workers voted to join the union.

The new union, going by IAMAM, began negotiating with management at the museum a few months after. Now, after more than 11 months of negotiations, more than 80 museum workers have a labor contract agreed to by both management and union membership.

“We are excited to begin this next chapter; to implement our hard-fought contract and continue together to build the workplace at MAM that we all deserve,” said the union on Facebook.

“This exciting outcome is the result of a tremendous amount of challenging work, and I want to recognize the diligent efforts of our Senior Leadership Team, our unionized staff members, and union representatives who helped bring this to a positive conclusion for all,” said Marcelle Polednik, museum director, in a statement. “This optimistic step forward will allow the Museum to be even more effective in advancing its mission and Strategic Direction.”

But the museum’s management has not always viewed the organization of the museum workers in such a favorable light. In September, shortly after organizers went public with efforts to form a union, management at the museum told Urban Milwaukee, “We believe our culture and current collaborative relationship best serve our employees and the Museum. While we do not feel unionization is in our collective best interests, we fully respect the right of our employees to decide to unionize or not and will follow the well-established process provided for in the National Labor Relations Act.”

Some of the provisions won by the union in the new contract include:

  • An immediate boost in pay for workers making below the median wage.
  • Wage increases of 2.75% in the second year and 2.00% in the third year of the contract.
  • Wage transparency for all members of the union.
  • Limitations to subcontracting when union members are available to work.
  • Clearly defined processes for discipline and dismissal, each requiring just cause.
  • Increased healthcare coverage for workers.
  • A contractually binding commitment to foster diversity and equity.

Some of these provisions make strides toward addressing the issues at the museum that workers highlighted in public statements early on.

In a statement issued early in the effort, the organizers said: “Worker voices at MAM are consistently sidelined and discounted. We want to change ‘take it or leave it’ pay, poor communication, and a culture of privilege. With a union contract we hope to achieve a fair and transparent disciplinary process and, perhaps most importantly, ensure MAM will not take advantage of employees’ vulnerability during the ongoing pandemic.”

A copy of the labor agreement is available on Urban Milwaukee.

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