SEIU 1021

At the Asian Art Museum, members fight back against sexual harassment, transphobia, and bullying


Last year, an SEIU 1021 member, who is using the pseudonym Emily to talk about her experience, took a leave of absence from her job at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to address their struggle with gender dysphoria. The museum’s values and mission statement claim to prioritize respect, accessibility, and inspiring new ways of thinking by connecting diverse communities to Asian art. However, Emily, a transgender woman of color, was shamefully met with bullying and harassment by her manager Abby Chen.

There is no place for intimidation or harassment of any kind at work. SEIU 1021 leaders jumped into action immediately, and a grievance was filed. “This interaction made me feel monstrous to be transgender,” said Emily her grievance.

Just before her leave was scheduled to end, Emily made the difficult decision to quit her job. “I envisioned myself staying at the museum and in this position for longer because I really cared about the work that I did and found it extremely fulfilling,” Emily wrote. “However, the completely inappropriate behavior of my supervisor has forced me to make this decision. I’ve decided that I can no longer sacrifice my safety, dignity, and mental health for the sake of my career.”

Unfortunately, Emily was not alone in experiencing a pattern of hostility, harassment, and toxic work environments. As a result, members at the Asian Art Museum report losing a number of talented and dedicated staff members recently. Workers are arguing that if they can’t feel safe at their jobs, then they cannot create the experience that the visitors and the artistic community expect.

“With three staff feeling as though they had no other choice but to leave, some of them without a job to go to, how many staff does it take before management says, ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t working out,’ or ‘Maybe we should reevaluate this?’” said Jennifer Miller, a shop steward and education assistant at the museum. 

Since Emily made the details of her grievance public to the rest of union membership at the museum in October of last year, our union has fought for accountability and meaningful change. We demanded and were successful in having the offending manager, Abby Chen, removed from moderating and presenting roles at an upcoming symposium. Members are also demanding that this manager be removed from her position as head of the Contemporary Art Department and that her association with the museum be terminated.

Additionally, SEIU 1021 members are demanding an overhaul of an institutional culture that allows managers to bully and intimidate without consequence or accountability.

Read more here from KQED.