Hunter Logan, theater staff, speaking at an AMWU press conference to formally request recognition of their union by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, June 22 (photo by and courtesy Andrew Dudenbostel)

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles has voluntarily recognized a union for its staff. “Now we can move forward in building a working relationship with museum leadership and focus on having a voice over our working conditions and the creative professions to make this institution the best in our community and the world,” Visitor Experience Associate Viviana Santillan said in a statement released Thursday, July 14.

The decision comes less than two months after a group of museum employees calling themselves Academy Museum Workers United (AMWU) declared their intention to form a union with ​​AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME represents more than 35,000 people, including 10,000 museum workers at 100 cultural institutions across the country. The Academy Museum union will represent nearly 160 employees in 17 departments including curatorial, education, theater operations, and visitor experience. 

The Academy Museum opened last fall as an institution focused on celebrating the pinnacle of Hollywood moviemaking as well as showcasing diverse stories and filmmakers previously excluded from the cinematic canon.

Yin Kyi, a field coordinator with AFSCME, told Hyperallergic in May that some of the issues workers hoped to address with the union include wage discrepancies, allegedly inadequate responses to COVID-19 outbreaks, and staff being asked to do work outside of their job description.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (photo by Joshua White; JWPictures / © Academy Museum Foundation, courtesy Academy Museum)

The announcement makes the institution only the third museum in Los Angeles with a union, the other two being the Museum of Tolerance and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), which finally ratified a union contract in May, more than two years after MOCA’s administration recognized their union.

The Academy Museum straddles two industries whose labor histories are quite different: the museum sector, where unionization efforts have been steadily growing over the past few years to address systemic inequities; and Hollywood, which relies heavily on union labor for all facets of film production.

“The Academy Museum respectfully recognizes Academy Museum Workers United and the efforts of members of our staff in organizing,” Jacqueline Stewart, incoming Academy Museum director and president, said in the statement. “We deeply appreciate the history and importance of unions, acknowledging that much of the museum’s content represents an industry built upon unions and guilds.”

Stewart stepped into her current role as museum director and president earlier this month after the museum’s former leader Bill Kramer was appointed CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was previously the museum’s chief artistic and programming officer, and has a background as a film historian, archivist, and scholar of Black cinema.

With recognition secured, the union’s next steps will be to form a bargaining team and enter into contract negotiations with museum management.

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.