If you have never been to the Academy Museum, stop reading this article, buy a ticket, and go. I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve presumably done that, you can understand how special the museum is to me. Whenever I visit, I am immersed in the rich history of the industry in which I’ve built my life, my love, and my career. To look at the actual ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz or read the handwritten notes Gregory Peck scribbled on his script for To Kill a Mockingbird is to see history alive before my very eyes. It’s powerful. It’s profound. It takes something that is larger than life and makes it a tangible part of my own. I love the Academy Museum.
But the Museum isn’t just the artifacts preserved there or the exhibitions meant to take us back in time. It’s also the people. It’s the presenters, lecturers, preservationists, ticket takers, vendors, and custodians that keep the place open for the rest of us. Every day, some two hundred people get up and go to work running and maintaining this temple of film preservation. Like everyone reading this column, these people have their own lives to support. Some are single parents. Some are young people struggling to find their place in the world. Some have come to Los Angeles from other countries to make better lives for themselves and their families. But all of them care deeply about the mission and work of the Academy Museum.
Now these workers have come together with a mission statement: “It is because we believe in this institution that we are forming our union—Academy Museum Workers United.”
Unfortunately, after securing the majority support needed to gain representation from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences initially chose not to voluntarily recognize the workers as a collective bargaining group. This was surprising, given the fact that the Academy’s Board, the Museum’s Board, and much of the Museum’s membership is comprised of members of the IATSE, WGA, DGA, SAG-AFTRA, and the Teamsters. The trappings of union membership have been made available to these people and they’ve benefited from their union status throughout their careers. To deny the same opportunities to people who work to maintain an embodiment of the history and grandeur of our industry is not Solidarity.
We use that word a lot: Solidarity. But what does it mean? In a nation that is more divided than any time since the Civil War, what does it mean to stand in Solidarity with our Brothers, Sisters, and Kin? To me, it has always been a pledge. When we take our Oaths of Membership, we commit to fight for one another because we believe in the principles and opportunities that unions represent. We agree to stand with all workers who wish to belong to a union so they have a voice in their place of employment. We stand with our fellow members when their rights and conditions are threatened because we recognize that while our own might not be under threat today, they might be tomorrow. We take care of one another so that there will be someone to take care of us when our time comes.
As it happens, the Academy employs various members of Local 695 in their capacity as Projectionists. I would like to give a personal shoutout to member Spencer Christiano, who took up the fight in support of the Academy Museum workers. These Projectionists are bound and protected by the existing Local 695 Collective Bargaining Agreement and therefore would not have been directly impacted by the Academy’s decision not to recognize the AFSCME status of its Museum employees. Still, with nothing to gain on a personal level, Spencer chose to stand up in support of his peers because it is kind, it is decent, and above all, it is right. His efforts, in conjunction with the efforts of countless others, helped to reverse the Academy Museum’s position in this matter. This is the sort of Solidarity that makes unions the force for good that they can be in the world and it is the sort of Solidarity we will need going into 2024 and beyond.
The Academy Museum’s decision was not one of Solidarity and I applaud them for recognizing this and changing their stance. As of July 12, the Academy Museum Workers United and AFSCME Council 36 have begun putting together a bargaining unit to negotiate their first contract with the Museum. I stand in support of the workers of the Academy Museum. By standing in true Solidarity with our fellow unions, we uphold the very strength of what it means to be in a union, gain allies in our battle for better livelihoods, and strengthen one another through mutual cooperation.
Scott Bernard, Business Representative