‘Ancient Art Not Ancient Wages’: Unionized Workers Strike at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston After Contract Negotiations Falter

Wages, safety, workplace diversity, and advancement prospects are among the subjects staffers hope to address in a new contract.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on April 3, 2020. Photo: Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe via Getty Images.

Unionized workers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston are striking today in protest of what they say has been a long and frustrating negotiation process with the institution. Since 8:30 this morning, staff members have been marching in front of the museum brandishing signs with slogans like “conserve the art not the status quo” and “ancient art not ancient wages.”

Wages, safety, diversity, and advancement prospects are among the topics being addressed in the protest, which will continue throughout the day. 

The union, which represents curators, conservators, educators, public-facing staff, library workers, and others, voted to approve the one-day labor strike last week. 

“We’ve been bargaining for more than seven months but progress has been painfully slow,” said Haley Rayburn, a union negotiating committee member, in a statement at the time. “Our wages have been frozen since the beginning of the pandemic. The museum isn’t willing to guarantee salary increases for staff until 2024—and even then they’ll only commit to a 1.75 percent raise.”

The group also pointed to the stratification of salaries at the institution, taking issue with the fact that museum director Matthew Teitelbaum’s estimated 2020 salary of $992,000 is almost 19 times higher than that of the average worker’s pay of $53,400 per year. 

“Livable wages for everyone and workplace rights are issues we hope to address through a fair contract,” said Eve Mayberger, another union member and assistant conservator at the museum. “Boston is a very expensive place to live, and it can be a struggle to meet basic expenses, like housing and transportation.”

Signs created for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston union's one-day strike. Courtesy of Paul McAlpine via Twitter.

Signs created for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston union’s one-day strike. Courtesy of Paul McAlpine via Twitter.

Despite its depleted staff, the institution remains open today, and no temporary laborers have been brought in, a spokesperson for the museum confirmed. When asked for comment on the union’s action, the representative pointed to a statement released last week, after news of the planned strike went public. 

“From the beginning, we have supported our employees’ right to organize,” the statement read. “For seven months, we have met in good faith at the bargaining table, making positive progress and engaging in productive dialogue with the union. Despite serious financial challenges to the arts and nonprofit sector stemming from the pandemic and a slow return to normalcy, our goal has always been to recognize and support our employees, including a commitment to investment in compensation.”

“We remain committed to staying at the bargaining table to create an equitable and sustainable outcome,” the museum added.

A year ago, the Boston museum’s staff members overwhelmingly voted to form a union, with employees from more than 30 departments participating in the decision. Today, 71 percent of its staff is unionized, according to the representative.

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