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Art Institute of Chicago employees are forming a union with AFSCME

Photo credit: Getty.
By AFSCME Council 31 ·

More than 300 employees of the Art Institute of Chicago are coming together to form their union, the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU). The announcement came earlier this month in a public letter signed by members of the new union’s organizing committee.

“We believe there can be no equity without power sharing; therefore, we, the undersigned – staff members from various departments and diverse roles across the institution – are uniting to form our union,” the letter reads. “By negotiating a fair contract with management, we will work to realize the museum’s potential as a true leader among its peers.”

“The museum’s stated values include equity, sustainability and transparency, but it cannot make those a reality without listening to and understanding my co-workers’ needs and concerns,” said Sheila Majumdar, an editor in the museum’s publishing department. “If forming a union does nothing other than give us a clear line of communication with our leadership, that will be transformative.”

The letter says more than 200 museum employees were furloughed or laid off last year alone.

"Museum staff deserve an empowered voice in matters of our employment, compensation, and overall well-being,” reference librarian Kevin Whitener said. “For too long my co-workers and I have appealed to the museum administration for better conditions and have received empty promises or have found situations have worsened.”

Art Institute workers are forming their union through AFSCME. About 10,000 museum workers at 91 cultural institutions nationwide and more than 25,000 library workers at 275 public and private libraries have joined together to build power through AFSCME.

“We are happy to welcome Art Institute of Chicago employees to our ever-growing AFSCME family,” said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch, who’s also an AFSCME International vice president. “The museum is a Chicago icon, part of the heart of our city, and the employees are the heart of the museum. By coming together in their union, these workers can make the Art Institute a better place to work, visit and learn for all of Chicago.”

The organizing committee is now collecting union cards signed by their co-workers. When a strong majority have signed, AICWU will ask the museum to voluntarily recognize their union.

Meanwhile, more than 300 employees of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) are also forming a union, joining 300 workers on the museum side of the Art Institute. Both groups are coming together as AICWU. Read the SAIC staff’s letter here.

“For the past two years I've worked on committee after committee that's meant to make a change in how staff are treated at SAIC. While we've made some minor adjustments on these committees, none of them have been anywhere near the substantial changes that the school needs to give staff an equal place in the institution,” said Eala O’Sè, SAIC’s assistant manager of material source. “Our union will make sure our needs and rights are taken seriously.”

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