Walters Museum workers, management and Baltimore City officials debated whether the museum is a public or private institution during a council hearing Thursday, as staff members attempt to organize through AFSCME, which represents city employees.
The museum is financed by both public and private funds; staff members receive benefits including health care across town. City Councilor James Torrence called the briefing hearing “to help us better understand the importance of the labor electoral process and its implications.”
Union supporters compare the Walters to a quasi-agency, such as the free Enoch Pratt library, which falls under the jurisdiction of AFSCME.
Julia Marciari-Alexander, the director of the museum, did not voluntarily recognize them. She wants to take the case to the National Labor Relations Board, which under the National Labor Relations Act usually deals only with private companies.
“My position has always and resolutely been one of impartiality and non-interference in this process,” she said.
Teague Paterson, deputy general counsel at AFSCME, called the claim “a ruse” and argued that the entity straddles the public and private worlds – the city of Baltimore has incorporated the museum and has some financial control over it. here, while allowing its independence. Walters workers are outside the purview of the NLRB, he said.
“So why is Walters’ management insisting on an NLRB election? It’s really not an election, because we want an election. It’s about breaking unions, âPaterson said.
He said the question of the NLRB’s jurisdiction could lead to a series of court proceedings that can be appealed to the Supreme Court: âIt is a trap to drag this process out. “
Marciari-Alexander disputed this. “We must not and do not want to and cannot take any action to interfere or influence the outcome of a vote,” she said.
A qualified majority of workers declared their intention to form the union more than six months ago, complaining about mandatory 16-hour shifts, low wages and high turnover.
âThe Walters are a vital resource in Baltimore City. It’s a place to practice special care, âsaid Ruby Waldo, museum educator and Walters Workers United representative on the Education, Workforce and Youth Committee. âImagine what a place like this would feel like if its employees were treated with compassion and dignity. “
The hearing included testimony from the city’s legal department. Chief lawyer Hilary Ruley made it clear: âThe Walters is not a municipal agency. Like any other private company, they are free to organize.
She added, however, that the efforts of the museum workers’ unions are “way beyond my legal expertise or anyone in the legal department.” It is complicated. He has a bunch of federal labor law determinations, and we wouldn’t have a say on those particular issues.
Representatives from the city’s labor commissioner’s office said they would be able to certify the election once it was held.
The majority of the Education, Workforce and Youth Committee supported the workers and urged Marciari-Alexander to meet with them.
“I strongly urge the management of Walters and Walters Workers United to consider neutral arbitration,” said committee chair Robert Stokes. âWhile I hear that management does not want to take a position, it is important that we go beyond that and find a respectful resolution that recognizes the wishes of the workers. “
Mayor Brandon Scott supports the right of workers to organize, spokesperson Cal Harris said in a statement.
“As a strong supporter of workers’ rights, Mayor Scott is closely monitoring organizing efforts at the Walters Art Museum,” said Harris. âThe mayor will always fight for workers to have the right to organize and defend their ability to do so fairly and freely. “
In a letter, Comptroller Bill Henry said he supported Walters Workers United’s attempt to join AFSCME.
âMy office will formally request the management of the Walters Art Museum, in mutual agreement with AFSCME, to work with a reputable third party dispute resolution agent or agency, to verify existing majority support for the union, or to conduct elections. separated. deal with Walters staff and their union, âhe wrote in a note to board members.
An AFSCME official speaking on the merits said workers would organize a rally next week to pressure management to come to the table “instead of kicking the NLRB”.