Columbus Museum of Art workers rally union support

CMA workers, who first announced their intent to unionize in August 2022, will hold a public rally at Thurber Park on Saturday, July 15.
Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of ArtAndy Downing

Workers at the Columbus Museum of Art are bargaining for a contract, and they’re asking for the public to show support.

The rally to support members of CMA Workers United is set for Saturday, July 15, at Thurber Park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Representatives from CMA Workers United and other unions represented by AFSCME Ohio Council 8 – a local umbrella union for public service employees – including Wex Workers United and the Franklin County Public Defenders Collective, among others, will be there. 

The rally is a solidarity event where unions can show up to support one another, as well as share information with the public about how they can support unions locally and learn more about organizing their own workplaces. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, workplaces across the country have been unionizing at the higher rates. The stereotypical union may be at a blue-collar setting, like a factory, but there's been a recent surge in organizing among workers at cultural institutions such as museums and libraries.

The CMA workers won their vote for a union eight months ago and are currently in the process of bargaining for a contract. Due to the sensitivity of those negotiations, workers were unable to speak for this article.

This is the hard part – where the rubber meets the metaphorical road – as negotiations can take several months, and even a year or more. As the first unionized museum in Central Ohio, workers could be forging a path that other cultural institutions will follow. 

“We talk about the passion tax: Being expected to work in whatever conditions that might be substandard or in any way not ideal, and you’re expected to say, ‘Well, at least I work in the arts,’ or ‘I’m just so glad to be at a prestigious institution doing something I’m passionate about,’” said Jo Snyder of Wex Workers United, which represents workers at the Wexner Center for the Arts. “But you can’t eat prestige.” 

There are parallels between what CMA Workers United is facing and what Wex Workers United has gone through, and the two unions have supported one another and collaborated to push each campaign forward. At the end of the day, both want the same things. 

“Pay disparity is a huge concern,” Snyder said. “If you have a workforce that’s conditioned to love what they do at all costs, then it creates conditions where people accept things that they might not otherwise. … We’re about making these jobs sustainable for people. You shouldn’t have to leave the industry to have a living wage, to have respect on the job, or to have a say in your workplace.” 

Another aspect of union organizing is keeping public attention and pressure on management during the long process of forming a union and negotiating a contract. 

“We had people in our ranks putting together pizza runs when the Columbus teachers were on strike last fall,” Snyder said. “I know for a fact when CMA needs something, we’ll be there. And when we need something, CMA will be there. … Unions don’t necessarily work in isolation.”

Connecting people within the union and being in solidarity with other unions goes beyond strictly workplace matters. It comes down to forging mutual aid networks among people who are in need of higher pay and more resources in order to assist each other in the waiting period before those needs will hopefully be met with a union contract. 

“I like to tell the story of when my heat went out in the winter between going public [with the union campaign] and having our election, and the way I was flooded with space heaters and electric blankets and people offering their couches if we couldn’t stay warm,” Snyder said. “That was us acting like a union even though we weren’t officially a union yet. That’s what the labor movement is all about. It’s recognizing the needs and humanity of workers. We have to be able to walk that walk all the time; not just ask that of management but do that with each other, as well.”

As far as how the public can show support, Snyder encourages people to attend rallies like the one this weekend, engage with union accounts on social media by liking and sharing their posts to amplify their message, and to keep an eye out for direct asks, like signing a petition, sending emails to leadership or wearing a sticker. Oh, and one other thing.

“Start a union at your job,” Snyder said. “We’re stronger the more of us there are.”

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