Hispanic Society Museum Workers Approved a New Union Contract, Ending a Grueling Two-Month Strike

The workers recently brought the strike to chairman Philippe de Montebello's home.

Union members from New York's Hispanic Society Museum and Library picket outside the Upper East Side home of museum chairman Philippe de Montebello. Photo by Patrick Lenaghan.

After eight long weeks, workers at New York’s Hispanic Society Museum and Library have ended their strike and voted to approve their first union contract. The fraught labor battle recently led to a demonstration outside the Upper East Side home of Philippe de Montebello, the institution’s chairman and former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“We are elated about the new contract,” Patrick Lenaghan, the museum’s curator of prints, photographs, and sculptures, said in a statement. “It provides the security we never had before. With this, we can concentrate on the work we love and dedicated so many years to.”

The Hispanic Society first organized in May 2021 amid a groundswell of unionization at museums across the U.S. Workers petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to join Local 2110, part of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union. A few months earlier, the museum had ended its pension plan for staff members, and staff sought improved benefits and salaries.

After more than a year-and-a-half of negotiations, the union voted to strike on March 21, 2023, citing the museum’s refusal to continue covering health care premiums in full. New workers would have been responsible for 10 to 25 percent of the cost. During the strike, the museum did not pay staff, who each received $500 from the Local 2110 strike fund, plus money from a crowdsourced “hardship fund,” according to Hyperallergic.

Union members from New York's Hispanic Society Museum and Library picket outside the Upper East Side home of museum chairman Philippe de Montebello. Photo by Patrick Lenaghan.

Union members from New York’s Hispanic Society Museum and Library picket outside the Upper East Side home of museum chairman Philippe de Montebello. Photo by Patrick Lenaghan.

In a vote on Friday, the union ratified a two-and-half-year contract that includes full health care benefits and establishes a new 403(b) retirement plan, in addition to raising salaries by over 18 percent. (New employees making over $85,000 will pay for five to 15 percent of their premiums, but the museum will still cover deductibles.)

“Following months-long negotiations, we are pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached which serves the best interest of our community and staff,” museum director Guillaume Kientz wrote in an email to Artnet News. “We are excited to move forward in a positive way that will benefit the future of the Hispanic Society Museum and Library as it officially reopens to the public on May 25.”

The strike—the longest at a museum in years—had further delayed the reopening of the museum’s main galleries, which have been closed since 2017 due to renovations at its building in Washington Heights. The turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts museum complex, designed by Charles P. Huntington, has aged poorly.

“The buildings are limestone, and the roofs are steel girders with glass. The three elements are just not happy together and maintenance has not been good,” Lenaghan told Artnet News in 2021, at the opening of the first on-site collection show since renovations had begun, in a new basement gallery space. “And the roof is only one problem. There’s also the question of lighting and climate control. There are chunks of the building that still have their original 1906 electrical wiring!”

The Hispanic Society Museum and Library, New York. Photo courtesy of the Hispanic Society Museum and Library, New York.

The Hispanic Society Museum and Library, New York. Photo courtesy of the Hispanic Society Museum and Library, New York.

During the multi-year closure, the Hispanic Society has staged traveling exhibitions of its collections, which focus on Spanish and Portuguese art. Some works are reportedly still committed to loans through as late as 2026, but star paintings like Duchess of Alba by Francisco Goya arrived back at the museum from the Royal Academy of Arts in London last month, and are set to be reinstalled come the fall.

This week’s reopening will feature exhibitions dedicated to Joaquin Sorolla—who has his own dedicated room with a monumental painting cycle commissioned by the museum for the space—and Jesus Rafael Soto, celebrating the centenary of Sorolla’s death and Soto’s birth.

A selection of works by Soto will be on view in the museum’s main court, in dialogue with pieces from the collection. The Sorolla room will also unveil a temporary exhibition of high jewelry by Spanish designer Luz Camino titled “Jewels in a Gem: Luz Camino at the Hispanic Society Museum.”


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