Workers at Walters Art Museum win union election

Walters Workers United, AFSCME joins continued movement of cultural workers unionizing in Maryland

Baltimore — Nearly 80 museum workers at the Walters Art Museum have overwhelmingly voted to form their union with AFSCME Maryland Council 3. The election was conducted by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) on Thursday, June 15th, 2023; workers voted 60 to 5 in favor of their union. The new bargaining unit will consist of staff from retail operations, conservation, curatorial, safety and security, building operations, marketing and communication, installation and collections, learning and community engagement, and others. Walters Workers United (WWU) first announced intentions to unionize in spring 2021. Workers formed their union to address concerns regarding health and safety, pay equity, a voice in the workplace, and paths to career advancement among other reasons.

Throughout the organizing process and the long road to this moment, workers steadfastly fought for a wall-to-wall union — one union for all workers across the museum. Workers felt strongly that they should not be divided into two different bargaining units with multiple unions.

“After more than two years of organizing, we are excited to see Walters Art Museum workers win their union election. Today’s victory brings Walters Workers United closer towards a workplace where their talent and contributions are valued and their input and voices are respected and heard. We’re honored to have the members of Walters Workers United as part of the AFSCME Maryland family because all workers deserve the right to organize for the pay, respect, and better working conditions we deserve,” said Patrick Moran, President of AFSCME Maryland Council 3.

This victory is the third big win in the past year for Baltimore’s cultural workers organizing with AFSCME. Last year, workers at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Enoch Pratt Free Library both won their union elections with AFSCME. This wave of organizing is part of a national movement of workers at cultural and arts institutions coming together and organizing with Cultural Workers United, AFSCME. CWU is a national program that has seen workers at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Chicago Sciences Academy, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Academy Museum, the Daniel Boone Regional Library, and other institutions organize and win.

Quotes from Walters Art Museum Workers and Community Supporters:

Safiyah Cheatam, Manager of Teen Programs: “I can see the budding joy of my workers as we get closer to finalizing our union! We’ve worked so hard, and I am already benefiting from our courage and determination. Soon, I hope to be able to enjoy my religious holidays without the worry and navigation of using my PTO for it. I look forward to everyone receiving a living wage for their work!”

Garrett Stralnic, Gallery Officer, “I will never forget this moment. It takes a certain kind of bravery to question the status quo and a certain kind of courage to envision a more inclusive future where we can collectively advocate for ourselves. I am endlessly thankful for the opportunity to build community with my caring and impressive coworkers. I am endlessly proud to have witnessed them exhibit bravery in many forms. We have accomplished a lot in these long two years, and now I’m ecstatic to see how we will make the Walters an even better institution for ourselves and our community.”

Will Murray, Lead Maintenance Technician, “I’m so overwhelmingly proud and happy to be a part of this amazing accomplishment. I’m in awe of my courageous colleagues who fought to make this happen. This is a great day and will be a lasting legacy we leave behind for future employees of the Walters.”

Mary Cochran, Associate Registrar, “I’m so proud of my colleagues and their commitment to each other during this long process, especially as we won our union today. I’m looking forward to negotiating a contract that ensures that we have the job protection and stability we deserve.”

Will Hays, Associate Registrar: “I’m so proud of my colleagues. From the very start of our organizing campaign, our core value has been that all workers — both back-of-house and front-of-house — should be able to join together and fight for better working conditions. Now, we’ve won our wall-to-wall union. I’ve been a registrar at the Walters Art Museum for 10 years, so I know firsthand just how many people it takes to make a museum work. It takes all of us, and we are only stronger together. We all work for the same goal. The Walters is one of Baltimore’s treasures and strengthening our workers means strengthening our community.”

Jemal Cherry, Maintenance Technician: “I’m looking forward to the next phase and negotiating a contract. I’d love to see yearly raises and a more fair policy around people who leave the museum getting their PTO paid out.”

Lex Reehill, Monitor Room Officer: “This is a culmination of so many folks' hard work, from all corners of the institution. From Security to Conservation to Maintenance, we really did it! I am proud to be a part of a huge change for the Walters, and this is a considerable step forward towards equity, transparency, and accountability.”

Greg Bailey, Senior Objects Conservator: “I continue to be inspired by my colleagues’ commitment to each other and to this institution. With the recognition of our union, together we can build a more inclusive future in which all workers are safer, more secure, and supported in the work they do.”

Evan Carroll, Gallery Officer: "I'm anticipating the agency we'll be afforded as a union, united with other museum staff. Representation is key to a lot of us whose work goes unseen and underappreciated."

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, “Congratulations to the workers at the Walters Art Museum on their union election victory! I’m proud to stand with the Walters Workers United members who have been organizing in my district for over two long years to form a union with AFSCME. Here’s to winning the dignity and respect that only a collective bargaining agreement with your employer can provide.”

About AFSCME Maryland Council 3
AFSCME Maryland Council 3 represents nearly 45,000 public service workers at the local, city, county, state, and higher education levels who provide the valuable public services that our communities rely on. From Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, we make Maryland happen.