Frequently Asked Questions

Updated 09-29-2020

What is a union?

Unions are made up of workers and people who help facilitate equity in the workplace. A union is also a set of tools and resources that allow employees to empower themselves and their voices. Union members make these tools and resources available to themselves through their own collective contributions. Labor unions allow workers to collectively bargain in a transparent and democratic process, and to ultimately win a contract, which is a bilateral agreement to the terms of employment. 


What is collective bargaining?

The process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment. Every year, millions of America’s workers negotiate or renegotiate their bargained contracts.


Why do workers at MAM want a union?

We believe a union can help us win a seat at the table. We want to come together and participate in determining the future of MAM. 


What can union members bargain with their employers over?

When you sign a union authorization card, you choose to stand together with your coworkers, and this solidarity gives the union contract its power. Collective bargaining is the process by which workers, in conjunction with the union, use their solidarity to negotiate a contract that is as fair as possible for everyone. If we are divided and concerned only with our own individual ends, we all lose out. By standing together, we can lift up the most vulnerable among us and raise the standard at the museum. 

We can use collective bargaining to fight for:

  • Livable wages
  • Affordable healthcare
  • Social justice 
  • Job security and due process


How do I join the union?

In order to get the fairest possible contract we must gather as much support as we can. If you would like to be a part of the movement for equity and transparency at the museum, you can sign a union authorization card. (You can do so electronically here! If you want to sign a physical card, contact us!) If you’ve done that and you want to do more, you can talk to your coworkers and friends about what unionization could mean to the museum. Even more excited? Join our Organizing Committee! It’s open to any MAM worker that would like to participate. Contact us at mamioc2020 (at)!

Originally our goal was to request voluntary recognition from the Museum.  When MAM closed that door, we filed for a secret ballot election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on August 31, 2020.  We are currently waiting to hear from the NLRB about the next steps.  We can expect an election in 45-90 days.   

Furloughed workers will be eligible to vote in the election.


Who is the IAM?

The IAM is a labor union made up of some 600,000 working people in North America, with shops at Harley-Davidson, Boeing, Southwest Airlines, NASA, John Deere, General Electric, United Airlines and much more. (Learn more at About The IAM.The IAM has been representing the security guards at the Milwaukee Art Museum for decades, and now the rest of the non-managerial staff at MAM want to enjoy the benefits of a union contract.


What do my dues pay for?

Dues secure all the benefits, rights, services and privileges that are negotiated through collectively bargained contracts. Dues enable the union to utilize all of our collective power to negotiate the best agreement possible. During negotiations, the IAM traditionally trains its bargaining committees to ensure they are equipped with the skills necessary. Dues are also used for arbitrations, when grievances can’t be resolved between the union and the company. Union  dues also include benefits that the union offers, such as scholarships, free online college, group health plans, and more.  Dues also allow for union staff to help unrepresented workers organize a union at their workplace.

Where do my dues dollars go?


Will my dues money go to politics?

Dues money does not go to political candidates.  Every penny spent on political lobbying comes from voluntary donations to the Machinists Non-Partisan Political League (MNPL).


Will we have to strike?

Strikes get a lot of publicity, but the odds you will ever go on strike are slim. Every year, ninety-eight (98) percent of all IAM contracts are negotiated without a strike, through businesslike, professional negotiations with the employer. The IAM Constitution ensures no one in the IAM can order or force a majority of members to strike against their will. Members covered by the contract are notified and given the chance to vote on the proposed agreement and on whether to strike. It takes a simple majority (50%+ 1) of those voting to accept a contract, BUT it takes a two-thirds (66.66) majority to strike. With that said, sometimes union members do vote to strike. It’s a source of power and often times it’s the best way to protect ourselves against corporate greed. Strikes are not taken lightly, however. That’s why it takes two-thirds of the membership at your worksite to vote to authorize a strike.


I like my manager; why should I support change with a union? 

We are ALL passionate about our work and we want to be happy while working, but the reality is that each department is not equal. If your working relationship with your manager is positive, it doesn’t mean that’s the case for all of us at MAM. By joining together in a union, we can  enhance the dynamics of our relationships at work; every one of us will have a chance to build relationships of trust and respect with our managers. You can help by sharing what works for you and your manager—for the benefit of your fellow MAM employees.

Union contracts can provide security not only in wages and salaries, but also in the form our work relationships take; contracts can be shaped to preserve the structure of the relationships that you and your managers have worked to create, regardless of future staffing changes. Working relationships and their boundaries are created by the individuals working together, but we all know that our coworkers come and go. A contract will establish expectations of professional relationships.  


Why is paying a living wage important?

We care about our work. We all deserve to be able to work for a cause we care about, no matter where we work in the Museum. We want the Museum to show us that our care is reciprocated, by paying living wages to ALL employees. Staff should not have to abandon their passion because they can no longer afford it.

There is dignity in ALL work. We should be able to make a living doing what we love, in a place that we love. Each of us have developed skills and expertise in our fields, and we should be compensated for our know-how, whether it is expert customer service from frontline staff or world-class knowledge making things happen behind the scenes. We need to support the entire staff to elevate the institution as a whole. We should stop viewing some positions as replaceable, disposable, and interchangeable. There is skill in ALL forms of labor.

We ask A LOT of our least paid staff. Frontline staff represent and promote ALL the Museum’s programs. They are asked to speak about all that we do. While some staff are laser focused on their roles, front line staff are asked to be jacks-of-all-trades: accurately representing every exhibition, sharing knowledge of art, and working with the public in flexible, granular ways. This takes skills that ought to be recognized and developed, not lost to higher paying jobs at other businesses. It is worth investing in the employees that drive the interest and attendance in MAM’s programs. It is worth investing in the first impressions that visitors have of our museum.


Why is social justice one of our bargaining priorities?

Racial justice and equity demand a change! The vast majority of MAM’s racial diversity exists in the lowest paid positions at the museum. It is a tangible reflection of MAM’s investment, or lack thereof, in supporting communities of color. Living wages in ALL of MAM’s positions would encourage more people to pursue careers in the arts, with entry level positions becoming viable options for supportimg oneself and one’s family, rather than reserving museum positions for those who are privileged enough to afford to live on low wages.

It takes us ALL. MAM could be one large art gallery, event space, restaurant, studio, conservation lab, etc… but it is ALL of these things together that make MAM a memorable experience for our visitors. We would not be what we are without the support we give each other. The stronger and more synchronous the parts, the stronger the whole. That’s solidarity.

We are at MAM because of shared passion for the arts. No one works here to get rich. We work for our beliefs, and we believe in the value of art. What are your beliefs about equity and fairness? We believe MAM can be a model for other art institutions and a leader in deconstructing the elitism embedded in art museum culture across the country. We believe that MAM, as an icon of a city, should reflect Milwaukee’s tradition of hard work and workers’ rights. Unionization will help build a progressive brand image for the Museum, and it will send a message to the Milwaukee community that MAM supports the working class and is truly a place for everyone.


Can the union bargain with the Museum on social equity goals?

Yes!  Economic justice is social justice. Mandatory subjects of bargaining – like pay, benefits, and working conditions – absolutely have an impact on social justice issues.  Other social equity goals, like worker representation on hiring committees, are generally considered permissive subjects of bargaining. Our ultimate goal is to create a harmonious workplace where all employees would be given the opportunity to excel and reach their potential.


What impact can unionization have on social justice at MAM?

First, we use collective bargaining to fight for an end to the one-way relationship between the MAM Board of Trustees and the workers, and the inherent classism and racism implied by that kind of one-way relationship. With a union contract we will achieve a transparent disciplinary process and we will be in a better position to keep MAM from taking advantage of the pandemic to cut staff and pad their bottom-line. Those of us who are earning poverty wages from MAM and living paycheck to paycheck already know a lot about “financial strength and discipline”, and it’s certainly nothing for us to strive towards.

We are also interested in exploring contract provisions that would allow workers to sit on hiring committees, to have seats on the board, and to provide feedback on the actions and policies management puts in place. These opportunities, as well as the financial security that union contracts can provide, are key to advancing social justice both within the museum, and the city as a whole.


How will unionizing change my relationship with my supervisor?

It will improve it!  Every contract looks a little different from every other because every workplace and workforce is unique. What union contracts do provide are a standardized disciplinary procedure for when there are issues between management and workers, and the security for workers to question any work that they feel is unacceptable or unsafe. The purpose of a contract is to improve labor relations.   


Will a union contract prevent me from talking with my supervisor?

Definitely not! Please keep in mind that an IAM MAM negotiated contract is aimed to secure, protect and collectively monitor wages, benefits and working conditions. But at the end of it all, we want to work together to make MAM successful. To that end, the IAM promotes partnership and positive labor relations. 

You will still be able to talk directly to your manager about problems if you so choose. But if you are called in for a potential discipline, you will have a right to have a steward present to defend you and be a witness to what is said and done in the meeting.  The boss will no longer have the last word.  MAM’s Open Door Policy is no substitute for a contractual grievance procedure.   


Will the union harm MAM?

No. We strongly believe it will help MAM. That’s because workers who form a union are more satisfied and productive at work. Joining in unions also reduces costly turnover and makes the workplace safer. Additionally, by forming a union at MAM, we’ll be able to hold more sway over management’s decisions, allowing workers a voice at the museum. We are skilled, passionate art advocates and MAM will benefit when our perspectives are listened to, and when we are able to thrive.  We are the Milwaukee Art Museum, and we deserve a voice in the decisions that impact our jobs and livelihoods!


Once a contract is signed, can I opt out of it?

Because Wisconsin is a “right to work” state, you can choose to be a dues paying member or not. Individuals cannot undo a contract once it is ratified by the union, even if you decide to leave the union itself. The contract applies to all workers in the bargaining unit, even those who don’t pay dues and who don’t vote in the contract ratification process.  As with every democratic process, the contract ratification is best served by having an active, informed group of voters making decisions.


Does MAM have a collective bargaining relationship with other groups of workers?

Yes! The IAMAW Union Lodge 66 has represented the security guards at MAM for decades. Just in August, the guards and MAM negotiated another three-year contract, highlighting the fact that MAM has an excellent working relationship with the IAMAW and the security guards already.


When we sit down to negotiate, do we start with a blank sheet of paper?

MAM makes it very clear in the employee handbook that there are no guarantees and the handbook isn’t a contract.  If MAM honestly thought they could pay you less and reduce your benefits because you have a union, why are they paying the union busting law firm to try to talk you out of it?

While we cannot guarantee that MAM won’t propose take-backs at the table, by law MAM must negotiate in good faith with its unionized workers. If MAM claims financial hardship, they must be fiscally transparent in order to propose and justify wage reductions and concessions.  Because the bargaining committee is made up of your elected co-workers, you can be sure that they will fight to make sure everyone is treated fairly. 


Will a union increase my job security?

Absolutely!  Without a union, you are an at-will employee and MAM can choose to discipline, fire, or change your working conditions at any time, without notice, and for any reason (with the exception of Federal protections which protect against discriminatory employer actions.)  Once you and your co-workers unionize, you will no longer be “at-will” employees.  MAM will be obligated to follow the disciplinary rules outlined in the negotiated grievance procedure in your contract.

A union contract provides a due process with specific disciplinary actions that the employer must take before deciding to discipline workers. MAM must prove it has “just cause” when firing workers. While this grievance procedure may not overturn MAM’s decision (in case MAM was justified and followed the proper disciplinary procedures), it does provide workers with safety from unjust or unfair firings or discipline.


What is a bargaining unit?

A bargaining unit is the group of employees that are covered by a contract and who are represented by a union.  


Who will be in the MAM bargaining unit?

As of now, we’re not sure yet.  When the IAM filed a petition for an election to the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of MAM workers on 8/31/2020, part of the petition included a request for a wall-to-wall bargaining unit.  A wall-to-wall bargaining unit includes both professional and non-professional employees.   


If I don’t vote in the election and a union gets voted in, am I still covered by the collective bargaining agreement?

Yes, if a union is voted in, all employees in the collective bargaining unit are subject to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement regardless of whether they voted in the election.

In the same way that our government elections work, the results of the election apply to everyone.  This makes it incredibly important for you to vote and make your voice heard! Without a union contract, MAM makes unilateral decisions about your job without any worker input, usually to their benefit.  Whereas with a union contract, employees are guaranteed a seat at the table when it comes time to make decisions about workplace policies. Workers collectively decide which issues are most important and bring those proposals to the negotiating table.  MAM made lots of decisions and cuts during the pandemic that impacted MAM staff without any input.  Unionizing gives workers a process to make their voices heard, requiring that management listen.


What does a union contract at an art museum look like?

Here is an example of a union contract that was negotiated by the workers at the New Museum in New York City, covering both non-professional and professional employees. Every negotiated contract looks different because every worksite and workforce are different, reflecting the needs and priorities of the workers at a particular institution. Each bargaining unit shapes the language and scope of the contract; MAM employees will sculpt the proposals that are brought to the table and will be involved in negotiating with MAM management through the process.