US museums see a rise in unions even as the labor movement declines

The carpenters and security guards at the Philadelphia Museum of Art have long been part of a union when, in 2020, workers from departments within the museum – curators, conservators, housekeepers educators and librarians – voted to create one of the largest museum union in the country with nearly 250 members.

Workers at Whitney Museum of American Artthe Art Institute of Chicagothe Guggenheim and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angelessoon formed their own union, part of a wave of efforts to organize labor at nearly two dozen arts establishments where employees have created new collective bargaining units over the past three years.

Many of the workers who have recently joined the union come from management, administrative and educational staff – white-collar office workers who were not previously represented by bargaining units. collective.

The increase in organization has even created a audio file“Art and Labor,” whose producers say they “advocate fair labor practices for artists, assistants, crafters, physicians, interns, registrations, cleaners, writers, editors, curators, defenders, performers, and anyone who works for the arts and institutional culture.”

And surprisingly, at a time when national union membership rates match historic lows, down significantly from the 1950s, when more than a third of American workers were members of a collective bargaining unit. Last year, according to the federal government Bureau of Labor Statisticsthe employee union rate is 10.3%.

So why should museums be outsiders in a dwindling national labor movement?

Organizers say their efforts to convince white-collar art-makers to unite have been fueled by growing frustration about the pay gap between museum staff and executives, and there layoff pandemic only adds to some employees’ concerns about finding better wages and job security.

“Museum staff recognize that human resources policies on pay and benefits are sometimes dozantine,” says Tom Juravich, a research professor of labor mobility at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “They realize that they are being treated like servants to the more elite.”

Mary Ceruti, director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where union in 2020The labor effort is part of a broader push for change at institutions that are also being asked to diversify the workforce and introduce the arts more widely, said the labor force.

“Unification has emerged as a way in which employees are trying to influence institutional change,” says Ceruti. “Most museum leaders share the same goal as our staff organizers: to transform museums into places that both reflect and inspire our constituencies.”

Indeed, some have accused museums of hypocrisy when they advocate progressivism in their art exhibits and welcome new diversity policy following the 2020 George Floyd protests while challenging workers’ efforts to seek better conditions and wages.

“There is a surplus of elite sensitivities,” says Laura Raicovichformer director of the Queens Museum, who recently wrote a book on why cultural institutions are at the center of political debates around diversity and equity. “Museum directors have been trained to think of unions as organizations that don’t take the bigger picture into account.”

Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110, a chapter of the United Auto Workers union that represents 1,500 employees from nearly 20 cultural organizations, says expanding the labor movement to more museum workers begins The roots date back to the early 1970s when an organization called the Association of Administrative and Professional Employees of the Museum of Modern Art, also known as PASTA, started a field trip.

At the time, it was heralded as the first self-organized union of professional staff at a private museum. Organizers complained that staff were poorly managed and underpaid, leading to a strike in 1971 and another in 1973 that created the cover of Artforum magazine and disseminated transparency requests from museum curators that are still talked about to this day.

“There used to be this story from the museum management that workers were supposed to be very privileged,” says Rosenstein. “You worked for prestige. Your expectations are said to be low. “

PASTA didn’t immediately spark a labor movement in the art world, but it became a 50-year milestone after more than 3,000 cultural workers in 2019 began sharing their salaries anonymously. through a online payment transparency spreadsheet. The staff at the New Museum started organizing around this time, and start comparing their salaries relative to executive salaries disclosed in the financial statements that museums and other nonprofits are required to disclose.

“It was serious at the New Museum when we first started organizing and some of the co-workers,” said Dana Kopel, a former museum employee who is now helping other nonprofits unite. My career was making about $35,000 per year.

Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum, has previously said that “employees and board of directors are united about our purpose and values, and we have accomplished a lot together.”

ONE contract then established minimum wages ranging from $46,000 to $68,500 along with increased paid time off and reduced employee contributions to health care costs. The consolidation at the New Museum helped pave the way for organizers, who called for pay disparities at institutions like the Guggenheim and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Opinion surveys of American workers show that labor unions are more popular than they ever were, with a 2018 study stated that 48 percent of non-union employees would join a union given the opportunity. And the new labor organization is clearly shown on college campusinside Amazon Warehouse and at Starbucks location.

Although organizing efforts at many museums have been successful, agreeing on contract terms has not always been swift. The museum said that millions of dollars in damage revenue during the pandemic shutdown has hampered their ability to execute long-term transactions.

So, almost a year after the unification vote, more than 100 workers at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts form a meandering line outside their institution in November to attract the attention of museum leaders, who have yet to agree to a contract. More than two years after the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles voluntary recognition their employees union, the organizers are also waiting for a contract and have complained that officials have rejected their proposal for higher wages and other benefits. And at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, organizers were also locked in negotiations nearly 18 months after consolidation.

“I naively think you win an election and most of the work gets done,” said Adam Rizzo, president of the Philadelphia museum union. management and continue to do the outreach work on a weekly basis.”

Norman Keyes, a spokesman for the Philadelphia museum, said the agency is “committed to reaching a collective bargaining agreement that achieves the best outcomes for our employees while preserving the museum for generations to come.” after”. Amy Hood, a spokeswoman for LA MOCA, said her museum is “close to finalizing a favorable agreement”.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston released a statement that read: “We continue to have productive dialogue with the union and look forward to reaching our first collective bargaining agreement.”

However, some museum workers have claimed that their employers are stalling negotiations to demoralize their bargaining units; others have gone as far as to accuse officials of retaliating against pro-union employees.

Unionized workers at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Museum of Natural History have argued they received negative performance reviews because union mobilization.

In Chicago, organizers filed a complaint of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board against the organization on behalf of a worker.

Katie Rahn, a spokeswoman for the Institute of the Arts, said it was unable to respond to allegations of retaliation because of its privacy policy on personnel matters. “We look forward to working with the union through the collective bargaining process to reach an agreement that meets the needs of all parties,” she said.

At the Natural History Museum, an anthropologist, Jacklyn Grace Lacey, said she was fired after organizing extend union member of District Council 37, has two union shops at the museum, one representing the bodyguards and other representatives of clerical workers. These stores include about 250 members; District 37 council is working to add a third locality that could include dozens of employees to the union ranks with titles like curator and scientist. Last week, the union filed a motion with the museum to adjudicate Lacey’s dismissal.

Anne Canty, a spokeswoman for the museum, said in a statement that “The museum respects the right of our staff to decide whether to vote to incorporate and we are listening to a wide range of concerns.” feedback from employees when they self-report the matter.” The statement added that “Jacklyn Lacey’s termination is entirely separate from the current union organizing effort.”

Many museum employees who have been looking for their future for the collective organization say they are optimistic that unions will protect them in an uncertain world.

“We want equity included in our contracts,” said Sheila Majumdar, an editor and union organizer at the Art Institute of Chicago. union at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it plans to hold its first bargaining meeting in the spring.

“We have moved away from the myth of a culture worker who is only grateful to have a job in the field,” she explains, adding that younger workers have a better understanding of their worth. . “We are museum people.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/arts/design/museums-unions-labor.html US museums see a rise in unions even as the labor movement declines

Fry Electronics Team

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