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Oakland Museum Union Announced Amid a National Wave of Museum Organizing

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The Oakland Museum of California’s Oak Street entrance. (Courtesy OMCA)

A group of Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) workers on Wednesday announced plans to form the museum’s first union. Representatives from OMCA Workers United said union membership would consist of approximately 90 workers across the museum, in roles including curation, ticketing and program development.

“We are asking management to join with us in bringing our institution into alignment with our stated values of equity, community, and humanity,” read the union’s statement.

Museum management is currently reviewing the union organizers’ requests, according to a statement from OMCA management provided to KQED.

OMCA Workers United joins a national wave of museum union organizing in the past few years, including at the Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. In California, workers at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the California Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles have all instigated union bargaining efforts. Layoffs in the pandemic era and concerns over structural racism after the murder of George Floyd are often cited as reasons for a greater investment in unions at art institutions.

Linds Young, an OMCA Workers United organizing committee member who develops educational programming for students, said union goals include better wages and affordable healthcare.

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“I think something that we’re all learning together is nonprofit life is a little rough sometimes,” Young told KQED over the phone. “We’re looking for folks who work on our front line and in our prep staff to have livable wages — living in the Bay Area is pretty expensive.”

The union also referenced the museum’s new strategic plan, which includes goals to “advance equity, transparency, and anti-racism in internal structures, culture, and practices.” Back in 2020, the museum assembled Anti-Racist Design Teams among staff to assess equity across the organization. Young says the union wants to be included in decision-making and implementation surrounding equity.

“In the wake of protests about the murder of George Floyd, we have gone through a lot of anti-racist design and learning.” Young said. “A lot of us here are just feeling like we need a little bit more transparency in these goals.”

Union organizers tell KQED they are requesting immediate voluntary recognition of the union by OMCA, and hope to hold a union vote by March 13.

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