Over the past several months, members of the Board of Trustees and members of the senior leadership, including Christopher Bedford, have been engaged in discussions with city officials, including individuals in the office of the Mayor and Labor Commissioner. These conversations have focused on whether the city could oversee a secret ballot election for eligible BMA employees to determine whether a majority want to unionize. We also explored what role the city could play in resolving any questions or disputes that might arise regarding the election process or subsequently, if a majority of staff voted to unionize, in collective bargaining. We appreciate the patience of our colleagues as we worked through these various complicated questions and are grateful to city officials for being responsive and providing us with answers.
We have now received clear confirmation from the Labor Commissioner that while the city can certify the results of an election overseen by a third-party arbitrator, the city itself cannot oversee a secret ballot election. Further, the city cannot take responsibility for resolving any questions or disputes that might arise in collective bargaining should the staff elect to unionize. Given the limited involvement the city could have in the process, this means that a city-run election, as was requested by BMA union organizers, is not a viable option for us.
We understand that the union organizers proposed a city-run election because they want to form a single unit, and this is why we took the time to carefully explore this option with the city. We also understand that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has overseen union elections for numerous cultural institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago and Brooklyn Museum, does not, as a matter of federal law, allow for security employees to be in the same union as their co-workers from other departments. For this reason, organizers may still want to pursue the third-party arbitrator route. That direction, however, would mean that we would be leaving both the election process and dispute resolution to the discretion of a single person. While there may be many qualified people who could serve as arbitrators, a single voice should not take the place of a governing body that operates under clear guidelines that are understood by and accessible to everyone.
Employer/union relationships are often longstanding, and the NLRB, which is an independent federal agency, established under the National Labor Relations Act to assure fair labor practices and protect the right of employees to join unions, would provide a consistency of oversight if organizers chose to file a petition for the NLRB to hold an election. We also know that our organizers would like to move ahead with an election expediently. The NLRB typically schedules elections within six weeks after a union petition is filed, which would allow the parties to quickly proceed this spring. And, as noted above, cultural workers have consistently relied on the agency to petition and vote to unionize.
The senior leadership team remains open to meeting with colleagues to discuss their perspectives about possible unionization at the museum. We know that there are a range of opinions on the subject, and we want to continue to hear from everyone on staff, whether in group meetings or individually. We want to reaffirm our view that the decision whether to unionize is with the staff and is best determined through a secret ballot election that allows each eligible staff member an equal say on the subject. The BMA’s board and leadership will respect the outcome of a vote and will continue to work with staff toward greater equity, regardless of that outcome.