The Walters Workers United reached a union election agreement Monday with the Walters Art Museum.
“This has been a long, arduous process, but we’re in the homestretch now,” said Will Murray, lead maintenance technician at the Walters, in a news release Tuesday from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees announcing the milestone.
Baltimore City delegates in the Maryland General Assembly approved a bill earlier this month that required the museum to recognize employees’ efforts to form a union. The bill will be withdrawn now that an election agreement has been reached.
Because Henry Walters bequeathed his collection to form the Walters Art Museum in 1933 “for the benefit of the public,” the bill argued that the Walters is a quasi-government entity. Representatives for museum management claimed otherwise. At a February hearing, they said that designation would result in an illegal “taking” of the museum’s property and that they would agree to a union that went through the National Labor Relations Board, which is only for private entities; in Maryland, legislation must be passed if a public institution wants to form one.
Walters workers were unwilling to go through the NLRB due to this classification and because they wanted a “wall-to-wall” union — meaning the employees would be represented by one voting body — and the labor board would have required security staff to join a separate union.
Walters Communications Manager Sydney Adamson wrote in an email Tuesday to The Baltimore Banner that the museum “will be working towards next steps” as the process continues.
Will Hays, associate registrar at the Walters, said the workers’ next step is to say “OK, we have this victory, now what are we going to do with it?” After employees sign union cards to state their intention to join the unit and successfully vote to form a union, they will hold a member survey to gauge the most important priorities to include in an eventual contract.
Walters employees have been working toward this goal for nearly two years, according to the AFSCME press release — and they’re still not done. A neutral third party will hold an election as early as May for workers to vote on forming a union. AFSCME estimates that, if successful, approximately 90 workers would be able to collectively bargain.
“Every coworker I’ve seen today just has a different smile on their face,” Hays said.