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Brooklyn Academy of Music Employees Push to Unionize

The administrative workers and cinema staff of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York are moving to unionize. In April, employees signed a petition to join Local 2110 UAW (United Auto Workers), which staffers at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Museum of Modern Art belong to and the New Museum voted to join in January.

The plan to form a union has been in the works for more than a year and a half, following reductions in benefits such as health care and 401(k) matching, the conversion of full-time jobs into hourly part-time positions, and other changes in working conditions. An upcoming election is scheduled for later this month.

“We are here because we believe in BAM’s mission,” BAMunion (@BAM_union) wrote on Twitter in April. “Through unionization, we raise our morale, pride, and job satisfaction. Our union will make BAM stronger, more democratic, and more sustainable. BAM is a cultural institution that stands for freedom of expression, innovation, and open dialogue. However, as administrative staff, we need a truly powerful voice of our own in our workplace.”

Though the institution’s management has not taken a position on the unionization efforts, Hyperallergic reports that BAM sent an email to employees with a document titled “BAM Union Fact Sheet,” which read in part: “The choice [to unionize] is yours, but we feel strongly that it is in your and BAM’s best interest for you to learn more about union representation before you vote in the upcoming election.”

It went on to inform workers that they may have “less take-home pay because of union dues” and that employees can “lose substantial pay and employer-paid benefits” in the case of a union strike. (BAM currently works with six unions representing security, maintenance, wardrobe, box-office, projectionist, and stage staff; the current unionization efforts are for administrative staff members.)

A follow-up email contained an additional document titled “Update—How Wages and Benefits Are Negotiated,” which said that if a union is elected, workers will no longer be able to individually negotiate compensation and that BAM would be legally obligated to freeze all wage adjustments during periods of negotiation.

“They’re saying that they are presenting unbiased facts, but they aren’t,” Kaitlyn Chandler, a video editor and motion designer, told Hyperallergic. “They are only talking about the thing we would lose. There’s no law saying that you can’t give merit-based raises. They are doing it because they don’t want the union and they want us to vote ‘No.’” Her colleague Jesse Trussell, a film programmer who has worked at BAM since 2013, added that the union has been up-front about worker fees and dues.

BAM confirmed that they “communicated regularly with employees to provide information and encourage everyone to vote in the upcoming election. . . . We respect the employees who are interested in forming a union and are committed to making sure every voice is heard. BAM will respect the decision of our employees and will work to move forward together to advance the work of the place we all love.”

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