Demanding a New Contract, Unionized Whitney Museum Employees Demonstrated at the VIP Opening of the Museum’s Biennial

Union members say the museum has been dragging its feet on contract negotiations.

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

On Tuesday night, as much of the New York art world converged on the Whitney Museum of American Art to fête its latest biennial, “Quiet As Its Kept,” which opens to the public on April 6, around 20 unionized museum employees took the opportunity to voice their displeasure with drawn-out contract negotiations.

“The negotiations are nine months in and have stalled greatly. They’re dragging their heels,” museum employee David Neary told Artnet News, referring to the institution. “We’re not here to disrupt. We’re here to also be seen with the biennial.”

Neary, who stood at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets with a sign reading “Honk 4 Safe Working Conditions,” said the point was to raise public recognition of the union’s stance.

“A lot of people here look incredible tonight, and they want to be seen,” he said. “We want to be seen too.”

The specifics of the contract the union is bargaining for include job security guarantees, improved health and safety measures, reliable and affordable health coverage, and a living wage. All told, the union represents educators, porters, visitor services staffers, curators, and conservators, among others.

According to fliers handed out by employees, more than half of the Whitney’s staff currently earns under $20 per hour.

“There’s an incredible amount of people here tonight, and it’s a show we’ve been working on for so long,” Gianna Chaves, a Whitney exhibitions assistant, told Artnet News. “It’d be nice to add some dialogue and create some awareness [about the union] inside.”

“We’re not picketing,” added Sarah Isenberg, a former communications department employee. “We’re not telling people not to go into the museum. We’re just bargaining for a fair contract, and we want to bring awareness to our cause, and light a bit of a fire under the management’s ass.”

In a statement, the museum said it “enjoys a longstanding and productive working relationship with the four other unions that have been established at the museum. The Whitney voluntarily welcomed Local 2110 last summer and has been negotiating with them in good faith since then. We’ve already made progress on a number of points. We look forward to continuing our discussions at our regularly scheduled meeting with them next week.”

The long line to get into the museum worked in the union’s favor, as many people in elegant outfits were seen mingling with demonstrating employees. The demonstration also fell on the same say as the successful and highly publicized effort by Condé Nast workers to create a companywide union.

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