The Walters Art Museum will increase pay for all employees next year, with starting wages for full-time, part-time and internship positions reaching $17 per hour, the museum announced Wednesday.

The museum will raise wages for both hourly and salaried employees starting with the Jan. 2, 2023 pay period, the museum said. Compensation across the institution will increase by an average of 13%.

Museum leadership also commits “to regularly reevaluate our compensation, so that we are keeping pace with changes in the museum field and remain competitive as an employer,” said museum director Julia Marciari-Alexander.

The pay raises come as museum management and unionizing employees who are part of Walters Workers United remain locked in a dispute over the next steps necessary to proceed to a union vote.

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While Walters leadership says the group can vote to organize under the National Labor Relations Board, Walters Workers United insists the board wouldn’t have jurisdiction because the museum is a public institution, the Real News Network reported. The unit prefers to be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, believing the NLRB would split the union into two units due to a provision excluding security guards, according to the report.

“Security is a group that is most frequently marginalized against, facing negative situations in terms of safety, low pay, and it’s also the department percentage-wise where a lot of people of color are in that department,” said Rachel Leeds, who joined the WWU organizing committee around June. “It would be wrong to make that a separate union, and it would also reduce the power.”

Museum leadership has also refused to meet with WWU to discuss the issue, the report said.

In September, the AFSCME sued the museum on behalf of the union. The museum is accused of refusing to comply with a Maryland Public Information Act request “for documents related to internal correspondence over the staff’s unionization efforts,” according to a Walters Workers United press release, and on Nov. 30, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge heard arguments in the case.

A spokesperson for the museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the dispute.

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Leeds said she is excited about the wage increases.

“I feel like it’s definitely a step in the right direction, and I’m very happy that this has happened,” she said.

But Leeds fears management could use the pay increases to question the need for a union. She said it’s important that the momentum behind the unionization effort does not stop.

Next, she said, Walters Workers United wants to meet with management, in order to discuss how to move forward with a vote.

“We’re not looking for a fight,” she added. “We want to collaborate and figure out how to make this work ... we want to have that conversation.”

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On the group’s Instagram page, one worker cited pay issues as a reason to unionize.

“I want a union because we need more equitable compensation practices for the entire staff, particularly for our lowest paid workers. Salary transparency helps close these gaps!” said a conservator at the museum.

Employee salaries are being adjusted “to ensure they meet the national median salary for their role,” the museum said, citing figures from a salary survey conducted by the Association of Art Museum Directors in 2021.

“This study, and the resulting increases in the museum’s salaries and hourly wages, demonstrates the commitment of Walters’ leadership to competitive compensation and to taking action when action is needed,” Human Resources Director Tiarra Chance said.

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