Workers at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum in western New York are seeking to form a union, joining a nationwide wave of labour organising among art institution employees. The Buffalo AKG employees notified museum director Janne Siren and other administrators during an all-staff meeting on 16 November, video of which was subsequently posted to instagram.
In a letter accompanying the announcement, the union organising committee announced its goals, asserting the role of workers as a “vital part” of the greater Buffalo arts community. Union organisers additionally say that they hope to establish “equitable practices that unify all departments”, “facilitate a space in the art world that is inclusive to Buffalonians and beyond” and “guarantee that the principles of radical hospitality extend to the workers that embody them everyday”.
The statement references the museum’s July reopening following a $230m, decades-long expansion project, asserting the importance of staff involvement in determining the museum’s course beyond this transformational period. Organisers cite the museum’s mission statement, claiming that while Buffalo AKG affirms its dedication is “to flourish as an exceptional hub of artistic and creative energies that enriches and transforms people’s lives in our community”, it is the role of employees to “ensure that the revitalised museum is a welcoming resource that belongs to all”. They assert that while it is the job of employees to hold the museum accountable to this mission, they have been “left without the voice to do so”.
Organisers will attempt to join the Workers United union, which represents more than 80,000 workers, including many Starbucks employees. Workers United spokesperson Casey Moore described the unionisation effort to Buffalo News as “a very positive campaign, and they’re hoping the AKG leadership will respect their right to organise and voluntarily recognise their union at some point”.
In a statement, Andrea Harden, Buffalo AKG’s director of human resources, said: “The Buffalo AKG supports the right of workers to organise. Our employees are absolutely vital to our community and we are grateful for their efforts to ensure that the museum is a welcoming resource for all. We look forward to productive conversations ahead.”
As of 27 November, the union organising committee is canvassing for support within the museum, and no vote for unionisation has been held.
Over the past five years, workers at dozens of US art institutions (especially in the Northeast and Midwest) have formed unions, from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to the New Museum in New York. For many in the sector, those efforts gained urgency at the onset of Covid-19, as many institutions laid off and furloughed workers.