Workers at the Guggenheim Museum Have Ratified Their First Union Contract, Ensuring Them Historic Pay Increases

Another museum union has finally reached a contract agreement.

A Local 2110 union demonstration outside New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on March 30, 2023. Photo by Rosemary Taylor, courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum Union.

Workers at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum have voted by a 97 percent margin to ratify their first contract with Local 2110, part of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union.

“There is a spiritual aspect to labor just as there is to making art,” Alan Seise, a member of the union bargaining committee and the museum’s education department public programs manager, said in a statement. “The contract puts into writing that the labor we all do at the museum is important, valuable, and worth protecting. It recognizes the dignity and humanity of everyone who works to enrich the lives of our visitors. I’m proud to have been a part of bringing the Guggenheim a little closer to the ‘Temple of the Spirit’ it was founded to be.”

The two-and-a-half-year contract is retroactive to July 1 and includes a minimum salary increase of nine percent, starting with three percent now and again at the start of 2024 and 2025 (this is in addition to the three percent increase the staff received in January). Employees who have worked at the museum for a decade or longer will see an increase in the museum’s 403(b) retirement plan contributions to five percent of their salary.

Other benefits include four weeks of paid parental leave, tuition reimbursement for employee professional development, and the promise the museum will not deny reasonable requests for remote, hybrid, and flexible work schedules.

The unit includes about 150 professional staff, roughly two-thirds of which are full-time. The contract also agrees to let the National Labor Relations Board decide whether some 10 disputed positions are eligible for inclusion in the union.

“The Guggenheim is pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with UAW Local 2110,” a Guggenheim representative said in a email to Artnet News. “The museum thanks UAW Local 2110 and staff representatives for their engagement in the collective bargaining process.”

“It feels great to have a contract that’s the culmination of all of our organizing efforts,” Julie K. Smitka, an associate producer at the museum, added. ”It’s transformative for our workplace. Not only are there increases that exceed what the Guggenheim historically granted, but we now have rights at work that are legally enforceable.”

A museum unionization wave first began in 2019, when New York’s New Museum and Tenement Museum both joined Local 2100, and art services and engineering staff at the Guggenheim joined the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30. Those units approved their first contract in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively.

Unionization efforts followed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and picked up during the first year of the pandemic at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (LA MOCA and Philadelphia Museum workers both organized with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, while the MFA is part of Local 2110; all three ratified contracts in 2022.)

The Guggenheim’s Local 2110 bargaining unit represents curators, conservators, part-time educators, digital marketing staff, and visitor services employees.

Those workers had initially voted to join the union in July 2021, amid another surge of unionization at the city’s museums. In July and August of that year, staff voted to unionize with Local 2110 at the Brooklyn Museum, Whitney Museum, and the Hispanic Society Museum and Library.

The Whitney approved its first contract in March, followed by the Hispanic Society in May, after a nearly two-month strike. (The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, which joined Local 2110 in fall 2021, reached a contract agreement last December.)

The Brooklyn Museum negotiations have dragged on since June, when the museum gave the union until the end of the month to approve what it called its “final offer.” Instead, the two sides reached an interim wage agreement including raises and backpay, and are hammering out a final contract. Also currently at the bargaining table is New York’s Jewish Museum, which began organizing with Local 2110 in January 2022.

The union’s longtime members include New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the New-York Historical Society, which organized the in 1970s, and the Bronx Museum, which joined in 2005.


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