The ballots of a Dec. 22 unionization vote by Portland Museum of Art gallery ambassadors have been temporarily impounded until the National Labor Relations Board acts on management’s request for a review. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — The result of a unionization vote this month by 23 Portland Museum of Art employees remains unknown pending a museum management appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The mail-in election was held to decide whether the employees should join Technical, Office and Professional Union Local 2110 UAW. Local 2110, based in New York, represents educational and cultural institutions in New York and New England.

Ballots were scheduled to be tabulated Dec. 22, but Local 2110 President Maida Rosenstein said they “were impounded instead of counted because the museum formally appealed the labor board decision.”

Initially, 70 museum employees, including curators, registrars and education staff, filed a petition to unionize with the NLRB. The September petition cited low pay and poor job security. The board ruled in November that 23 of the employees, the museum’s “gallery ambassadors” who provide education and exhibit interpretation to visitors, had the right to form a union.

“We continue to follow the procedures laid out by the National Labor Relations Board in the handling of the ballots at this point,” Graeme Kennedy, the museum’s director of strategic communications and public relations, told The Forecaster Dec. 27. “We have asked for review of a part of the unit decision that we sincerely believe is in error – specific to the responsibilities of gallery ambassadors as they pertain to the security of our visitors and artworks – and are waiting to hear from the board about the request.”

The museum, according to the NLRB decision, views the gallery ambassadors as having a security role and therefore shouldn’t be part of a union representing other types of workers. The board said the ambassadors were not security guards.

Rosenstein said typically such requests never get heard by the labor board and are dismissed, something she hopes happens in this case so the result of the vote can be certified.

Kennedy told The Forecaster in November that the “Portland Museum of Art cares deeply for its staff and community and in no way seeks to delay or prevent a vote on unionization.”

“We have a bit of bump in the road because of the appeal,” said Michaela Flint, a gallery ambassador. “But I’m hopeful that voices of the museum’s workers will be heard. As workers we have the right to a fair and uninterrupted vote.”

Rosenstein said had a union been in place, the workers would have had bargaining power when they were told recently that they were “essentially furloughed” for the month of January because the museum is closing to the public because of the coronavirus.

Flint said the temporary shutdown has given her “a glimpse into what it is like to have the aid of a union,” she said.

“They have offered mutual aid, an unemployment information session, ride share and grocery delivery,” she said. “Local 2110 has gone above and beyond for the workers of the museum. They are even offering aid to those who oppose the union.”

Kennedy said museum management awaits the outcome of the election and looks forward to “continuing to partner with our staff toward the PMA’s mission rooted in diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion.”

“Throughout this process we have remained deeply committed to the institutional values of transparency and mutual respect informed by our staff,” he said. “The election makes sure that all voices are heard and we will work in good faith with all employees to ensure a strong, vibrant and sustainable PMA.”

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