After Drawn-Out Negotiations, the Whitney Museum Has Reached a Deal With Its Union to Improve Employee Pay and Benefits

The movement to unionize among museum workers continues across the country.

Union supporters brave the cold outside of the Whitney Museum on the night of the biennial's opening. Photo by Annie Armstrong.

More than a year after the Whitney Museum’s union began negotiations (and nearly two years after declaring its intent to organize), a deal has been reached for the institution’s first-ever union contract.

Members of the union bargaining committee, which are part of United Auto Workers Local 2110, announced the tentative deal today. It includes a 15 percent increase in non-managerial employee wages, applied retroactively to January 1, 2023, with additional increases of 9.5 percent during the contract, which expires on June 30, 2026. The agreement also raises minimum pay rates by more than 29 percent on average, and stipulates that employees be paid a $1,000 one-time bonus when the deal is ratified.

“We’re glad that we have worked out provisions that give us basic protection and rights at the museum and put up some guard rails where needed,” Graham Miles, a more than 20-year employee of the museum said in a statement. “Through the process of unionization and negotiations, we have been able to engage the museum on issues of fairness and equity and in so doing, have fostered a real sense of community and purpose.”

Whitney workers cited the pandemic-induced budget shortfalls, which resulted in substantial layoffs, as one reason behind their desire to organize. Over the course of the lockdown, staffers from 11 departments at the museum were cut, following an earlier round of downsizing when 76 workers, mostly in visitor-services-related roles, lost their jobs.

In recent years, museum workers across the country have moved to unionize, calling attention to gross disparities between the pay of directors and executive staff and the majority of workers beneath them. Whitney Museum workers now join the ranks of unionized staff at MoMA, the New-York Historical Society, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the MFA, Boston, and Mass MoCA, all of whom are also represented by Local 2110. Other institutions with contract negotiations in progress include the Hispanic Society, the Jewish Museum, the Dia Foundation of the Arts, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum.

A protester outside the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photo: Maida Rosenstein.

A protester outside the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photo: Maida Rosenstein.

Many of the unionization efforts have been contentious, as in the case of the Marciano Art Foundation, which abruptly closed just days after visitor services associates announced plans to unionize. And New York’s New Museum hired a union-busting law firm during its recent union struggle.

The Whitney has had its own conflicts. Although the institution voluntarily recognized its union soon after the workers’ announcement, employees have staged multiple demonstrations outside of the museum as the deal dragged on with no resolution in sight. In March 2022, nine months into the negotiations, protesters rallied outside the opening of the Whitney Biennial “Quiet As Its Kept.” Months later, workers appeared outside of the museum’s annual gala decrying “lowballed” wage offers, which Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, described as “insulting.”

“In instances” she said, the museum was “actually proposing less than what people are making.”

Now, at last, it appears that all parties are satisfied. According to the contract, which is awaiting a final vote from union members, provisions for temporary workers, severance pay, health and safety training, and sick leave have all been amended to accommodate the employees’ demands.

“This new contract creates a more just and fair workplace for every employee in the union with real protection and a real means of being heard,” said Denis Suspitsyn, a photographer at the museum, in a statement.

Facilities supervisor Sandy LaPort added: “We work out of the limelight and have sometimes felt under-appreciated and unheard. With this contract, our jobs are protected and we have a voice at the Museum.”

 

 

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