Andrew D. Nicholls, Ph.D.
Date of Award
Museum Studies, M.A.
History and Social Studies Education Department
Department Home page
Dr. Cynthia Conides
Dr. Tanya Loughead
At a time of decline in American labor unions, museums have been an outlier. This recent trend has swept through America regarding museum labor and their desire for union representation. This thesis examines the recent increase in museum employees to unionize, explore recent successes, and outline perceived benefits of union representation. Critiques of not having a voice in the workplace, unfair wages, and calls to acknowledge social injustice have all served as catalysts to museum workers unionizing. Museum work consists of several responsibilities concerning stewardship, education, and public outreach. One often overlooks the function of museum employees since visitors often attend museums for their artifacts and exhibits. The impact museum unions can have on the profession as a whole and surrounding communities is enormous.The history of the American labor movement is full of examples as to how labor unions affect more than just the workplace. Labor unions have often been associated with impacting politics and social justice movements on a national level. Unfortunately, not all press about labor unions has been positive due to counts of corruption. This negative press then serves as an advantage to the management class by creating a skeptical mindset within the working class prior to any organizing efforts. This negative view has led to federal policymaking hindering union ability and harming growth. This opposition to traditional unions held by some has left the door open for a potential transformation.
Sectoral bargaining is a direction all labor in America can transition into, including museums. The future of museum labor is uncertain due to many museums still struggling with workers being unhappy with not having a voice, unfair wages, and a desire for their institution to recognize social injustice. Museums, like many other workplaces in America, unionize one by one. It is difficult to run a successful union campaign due to the presence of anti-union firms that educate managers on how to stifle all union activity. This difficulty can be alleviated through sectoral bargaining because entire sectors of museums would be able to negotiate as one on a national scale, instead of relying on solo union campaigns.
Sectoral bargaining is tough to achieve because federal and local policymaking is required to make it a reality. Although, other countries like Denmark can serve as a blueprint as to how a country can develop that system successfully. The result of unions and museums will lead to museum employees and upper management working together to achieve a fair and just workplace that can correct past inequities and better serve their surrounding communities.
Connelly, John F. IV, "Strike at the Museum: A Report on Museum Labor Unions" (2022). Museum Studies Theses. 37.