A Bitter and Protracted Contract Fight at the New Museum Has Ended With a Big Win for Its Unionized Employees

Members of the union have won the fight for increased wages, additional paid time off, and reduced health care costs.

The collective bargaining unit at the New Museum. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

The unionized staff at the New Museum have reached a labor deal with the institution’s leadership, ending a bitter, drawn-out negotiation between the two parties over wages and benefits.

The 70-some members of the union, which belongs to UAW 2110, announced today that they have agreed to a new five-year contract that will result in increased wages, additional paid time off, and lower health care costs.

We’re really proud of this contract,” Dana Kopel, a union member who works as a senior editor and publications coordinator at the museum, tells artnet News. “I think it’s a good contract. It lays a solid foundation, which is crucial for a first contract.”

For its part, the institution issued a statement about the deal: “The New Museum has invested in our staff and will continue to do so to promote a diverse and thriving culture. We look forward to continuing to work together to advance the Museum’s important mission.”

Citing stalled discussions and hostile responses from management, the union voted late last week to go on strike if they were unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the museum. The union’s demands included guaranteed health care, improved worker safety measures, and a minimal annual wage of $46,000 for full-time employees. 

“Unfortunately, the museum’s position has been overwhelmingly at odds with both the needs of its employees and its own mission statement,” Liz Mahan, a member of the union’s bargaining committee, said in a statement at the time. “They have disparaged our proposals for equitable salaries, health coverage for all workers, and necessary union rights.”

The New Museum. Photo: Dean Kaufman courtesy of the New Museum.

The New Museum. Photo: Dean Kaufman courtesy of the New Museum.

The threat spurred further talks between the union and the museum, leading to marathon negotiating sessions over the weekend. After a 14-hour discussion on Saturday, the two groups agreed to principle terms. Members of UAW 2110 formally voted to ratify the new contract yesterday. 

“To start, the tenor at the table was pretty hostile,” Kopel says of the first negotiating sessions held earlier this year. “We started off far apart from the museum. But towards the end—especially leading up to the strike deadline—the pressure was on and both sides were working hard to reach an agreement.”

The new deal, effective as of yesterday, October 1, will grant full-time employees a wage increase averaging 8 percent over the first year. Yearly salaries will range from $46,000 to $68,500, broken down into a four-tiered system based on title and seniority. Part-timers will see a 15 percent bump to their hourly wage on average during that same time, with 3 percent increases in subsequent years. 

Unionized employees will receive increased paid time off and will see reductions in health care costs. The agreement also stipulates the formation of a labor-management committee, which will oversee issues such as staff diversity and workplace safety, and will have the opportunity to present annually to a subsection of the museum’s board of trustees.

“We know this agreement is going to change things at the New Museum, but we’re also hopeful that it’ll change things more broadly in the art world,” Kopel says. “Conditions need to change. It feels good to be a part of that push to make things more equitable.”

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