Sonoma Valley Art Museum hires union-busting law firm, employees say

Efforts by staff at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art to form an employee union are in limbo this week, after a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ran into trouble when the parties failed to could not agree on the size of the museum trade, according to a union representative.

The NLRB has a minimum business limit of $1 million per year, under which it will not claim jurisdiction over an organization, according to Ashley Mates of the American Federation of County and Municipal Employees, which helps staff from the SVMA to get organized. A disagreement over whether donations from a nonprofit organization count toward that $1 million threshold stalled the petition process, Mates said. They are now awaiting a decision from the NLRB that will determine whether the SVMA has enough trade for the Labor Relations Board to hold the power to unionize museum staff at 551 Broadway.

Mates is confident that the NLRB will speak out in favor of their petition, describing the issue of donation as a business as “established law.”

“We expect the board to decide that’s ridiculous,” Mates told the Index-Tribune this week. “But we don’t know how long it will take.”

Mates said the argument over the donations is “typical interference” by the SVMA’s legal counsel in the case – national law firm Jackson Lewis – which she and museum workers describe as an “anti-union” law firm . The company’s website includes an article titled “Remain free to unionise”.

In an April 28 letter to supporters, organizing employees of the SVMA, who call their group Sonoma Cultural Workers United, described themselves as “saddened” to learn that the museum had retained Jackson Lewis as legal counsel.

“This well-known firm provides legal advice on how to keep workplaces ‘union-free’ and undermine National Labor Relations Board elections,” the group said.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art executive director Linda Keaton, however, said the museum retained Jackson Lewis for his expertise in employment law.

“The museum has hired a competent attorney with a local presence to ensure that it complies with the law,” Keaton wrote in an email to the Index-Tribune. “Just like the union did.”

In a 2020 article for the nonprofit news website, The Conversation, San Francisco State University social studies professor John Logan named Jackson Lewis one of the top law firms. anti-union lawyers in the country.

It is among the top three law firms that “impede workers’ efforts to organize,” Logan wrote in the article.

In an overview of its services on its website,, the company claims to “help employers develop proactive strategies, sound policies, and business-driven solutions to cultivate a high-performing workforce that is engaged.” , stable and diverse, and share our customers’ to emphasize inclusivity and respect for the contribution of each employee.

Organizing efforts at the museum began in early April, when several staff members announced their intention to form a union of museum employees with the aim of creating a “more equal workplace” by establishing transparent policies, holding management accountable for staff concerns and integrating diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion into public and private museum practices. The announcement was signed by the CWU Organizing Committee, which nominated members Diane Egger-Bovet, Patricia Liverman, Amelia Martinez, Kathy McHoes and Sarah Parker.

The museum employs 19 people and the group says it has “super majority” support for the union.

The group gave the museum until April 8 to voluntarily recognize the union or it would appeal to the NLRB for an election, voted on by museum staff. A simple majority would allow NRLB to certify the union.

In a response, the museum issued its own announcement, refusing to recognize the union, but stating: “We respect the right of our employees to engage in union activity under the National Labor Relations Act. We also respect the right of our employees to decide whether or not they choose to be represented by a union.

Response continued: “We believe our employees deserve the opportunity to make an informed decision about the union and what it can mean for our workplace. If our employees choose union representation following an NLRB election, the SVMA will respect that decision.

Mates told the Index-Tribune this week that she felt the museum was breaking its promise not to interfere with the NLRB appeal and to respect the outcome of an election.

“It’s clearly interference,” Mates said. “(The hiring of Jackson Lewis) goes beyond mundane interference.

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