Councilmember Sawant: Newly-Formed Art Workers Union at Frye Art Museum Begin Bargaining Today, Calls for Community Support

SEATTLE - Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Human Services, Equitable Development and Renters Rights 

issued the following statement as the newly-formed Art Workers Union engaged in its first bargaining session, on July 29, with Frye management for a union contract:

“As a member of the local teachers union, City Councilmember and elected representative of Seattle’s working people, and member of Socialist Alternative, I congratulate the Frye Art Museum security guards on their first bargaining session with management today.

“Last month, I was proud to stand with you all as you unanimously voted to form the Art Workers Union. Now, you are bargaining with management - the next step in the fight to win dignity, good pay, respect at work, and the right to housing affordability in Seattle.

“There is no excuse for Frye management to not bargain a fair contract with the workers. The Frye workers are among those who have helped make Seattle, and District 3, a vibrant, dynamic community. They’ve shared their creativity and artistry as glassblowers, printmakers, painters, and pen-and-ink artists. They are called security guards by Frye, but in fact they do more than guard the artwork. They guide museum visitors, and lend their own artistic expertise in teaching people about the Frye’s exhibits.

“And yet these workers face economic eviction from Seattle, because of the combination of an employer nickel-and-diming them on wages, and greedy corporate landlords who are jacking up rents all over our city. These workers are on the edge of being homeless.

“It’s time for the Frye Art Museum to provide the workers a living wage, excellent benefits, good working conditions, and sufficient work hours. I call on all working people in District 3 and citywide to join me in supporting the Frye Art Museum workers, and indeed all workers fighting for their rights in the workplace, and for affordable housing in the community.”

New union member Kelsey Barnes said, “The Art Workers Union (AWU) greatly appreciated the support Councilmember Sawant provided when we were forming our union, and now as we begin bargaining our Union contract.  The AWU demands an extension of healthcare to all employees, increased salaries beyond minimum wage, and regular emergency preparedness trainings. At present, the security services team is not making a livable wage and most of its officers are not medically insured. The officers are proud to monitor the safety of the museum’s exhibitions and patrons, but their well-being needs to be valued as well. The AWU demands these improvements because we cannot afford not to.”

Sawant continued:  “I salute Kelsey and all of the Frye workers for their bravery in standing up.  And I encourage all workers, no matter where you work, to follow in the footsteps of these workers, and form unions so you can fight for better living standards and working conditions. Let’s build a powerful labor movement to fight for workers rights in the workplace and affordable housing throughout our city, including universal rent control, free of corporate loopholes!”


 Security Guards at the Frye Art Museum Win Union Election

Newly-formed Art Workers Union wins election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board with 100% “Union Yes” Vote

Workers Call on Frye Art Museum to Begin Bargaining with AWU

SEATTLE—The security staff of the Frye Art Museum voted to unionize with the newly-formed Art Workers Union in a 6-0 vote today. This follows on the announcement and call for recognition from the Frye Art Museum 19 days ago. The Frye did not choose to voluntarily recognize the union, so the workers went ahead with a vote coordinated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Art Workers Union was confident in victory, and would have with an even-larger margin had the management of the Frye not challenged the eligibility of 5 voters they call “supervisors” even though these workers do not possess hiring or firing ability as laid out as a requirement for exclusion by the NLRB. The Art Workers Union will continue to fight so that these workers are represented by the AWU, and request that the Frye honor the results of this landslide election by heading to the bargaining table.

"This is a victory for security guards here at the Frye. We urge management to work with us and bargain in good faith so that we can make the museum a stronger institution where workers have a seat at the table and a voice on the job,” said Caitlin Lee, a security guard and Art Workers Union founding member. “Art and museum workers around the country are organizing because without a change we can't afford to keep working in the field we love. We encourage other Seattle museum workers to take a bold step forward and organize their workplaces"

City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who represents the district in which the Frye resides, shared a message of solidarity with the workers:  

With the union election concluded, I call on the Frye management and board of directors to recognize the Art Workers Union without delay, and to promptly begin negotiations for a union contract with substantial improvements in their pay, hours, and benefits.

The Frye workers are part of what has made Seattle, and District 3, a vibrant, dynamic community. They’ve shared their creativity and artistry as glassblowers, printmakers, painters, and pen-and-ink artists. They are called security guards by Frye, but in fact they do more than guard the artwork. They guide museum visitors, and lend their own artistic expertise in teaching people about the Frye’s exhibits.

I salute the Frye workers for their bravery in standing up. And I encourage all workers, no matter where you work, to follow in the footsteps of these workers, and form unions so you can fight for better living standards and working conditions. Let’s build a powerful labor movement to fight for workers rights in the workplace and affordable housing throughout our city.


Added AWU member Sander Moberg: “We are excited to help the Frye Art Museum live up to its high standards, and are excited to help the museum become even better institution that holds itself accountable to the community it serves”

Frye workers say they began organizing in response to the dual impact that low pay and skyrocketing rent costs have had on working class artists. Workers also report receiving assistance from the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America’s Workplace Organizing Collective as part of a broadening movement in labor activism among Millennial workers.

The Frye Art Museum is now the first in Seattle with a unionized security staff. Members say they’re ready to begin bargaining to make improvements in their workplace.   

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