Academy Museum Employees Call for Recognition of New Union

The move is among a nationwide wave of cultural institution staffers looking to unionize

Academy Museum Workers United
Jeremy Fuster/TheWrap

About 35 employees of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures gathered on Wednesday across the street from the $500 million shrine to the Oscars and filmmaking to deliver a letter informing new Academy CEO Bill Kramer that they have gathered majority worker support for a new union and asking for voluntary recognition.

Three weeks ago, the new union Academy Museum Workers United went public with its intention to unionize with AFSCME Council 36, which represents unions in local government and private nonprofit groups. After the Academy released a statement saying it would move forward with a union election through the National Labor Relations Board, the AMWU filed its petition this past week for such an election, which if successful would give the Academy Museum’s 180 workers labor representation.

But now, AFSCME and AMWU have announced that a major of the museum’s employees have signed unionization cards and are asking the Academy to avoid wasting the time and money to hold an election by voluntarily recognizing the union.

Along with the formal letter requesting such recognition, AMWU included letters of support from 15 California state assembly members as well as Los Angeles city council members Nithya Raman and Paul Koretz, the latter of whom represents the district the museum is located in. TheWrap has reached out to the Academy for comment.

“Whether it is now or through an election, this union is being formed,” said theater operations staffer Hunter Logan.

While the Academy Museum’s workers have only recently gone public with their labor push, the origins of AMWU go back to even before the museum’s long-delayed opening this past September. As the museum was preparing to open its doors, assistant curator J. Raul Guzman found that many employees were being asked to handle tasks that were outside of what was listed in their job descriptions without being paid extra.

This, combined with the grassroots organizing happening at other museums and businesses, inspired Guzman and other employees to begin their organizing with the help of AFSCME 36, which has been unionizing several major museums over the past few years under the labor org Cultural Workers United. Among the museums whose workers have recently negotiated contracts are the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.

“Some things that we definitely want addressed are securing job descriptions specifically outline in contracts, increased pay, and racial and economic equity throughout the museum including language accessibility,” Logan said. “There are also some points that the union at MOCA was able to negotiate such as commuting benefits that we would like to achieve.”

In other sectors, grassroots labor organizing has been met with extremely strong pushback from major corporations. While years of work led to employees at a New York Amazon warehouse becoming the first to unionize, several other union elections have failed at other warehouses run by the conglomerate, with Amazon being accused of firing union organizers in retaliation.

Meanwhile, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was asked at a New York Times event whether he could embrace the unions that have been organized at over 150 of his coffee chain’s locations nationwide, to which he flatly said “No.” Starbucks Workers United filed a complaint with the NLRB in response to the comments, claiming such statements violated labor laws requiring Schultz and Starbucks to negotiate in good faith with the union.

The Academy Museum workers are hoping that they can avoid such tension with their employers. At the press conference, several of the AMWU members spoke of their pride in being employees of the museum, commending the Academy for creating engaging exhibits that celebrate the history of cinema while confronting its darker sides.

But Claudia Gonzalez, a visitor experience associate at the museum, also pointed out that the history of film from its inception has been intertwined with labor. The Academy Museum’s recent events have even delved into labor organizing, with Dolores Huerta giving a shoutout to AMWU during a Q&A with Eva Longoria at the museum.

“When we celebrate these films, we are celebrating the work of union writers, union set builders, union painters, union directors, and union actors and actresses,” Gonzalez said. “Unionizing is nothing new in Hollywood.”