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MoMA employees protesting outside the museum on Tuesday (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A demonstration on Tuesday by workers at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) did little to advance negotiations between a union representing over 200 employees at the institution and museum administrators, who are maintaining their call for a cut to employee healthcare coverage. MoMA and Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers have until June 20 to negotiate a new contract for the union members employed by the museum. The workers’ five-year contract expired on May 20, but the museum and union agreed to extend it one month in order to resolve the dispute over the proposed healthcare cuts.

Danny Fermon, a longtime MoMA employee and member of Local 2110’s negotiating committee, told Hyperallergic today that no progress was made at Wednesday’s meeting with the museum, in spite of the previous night’s protest — timed to coincide with MoMA’s Party in the Garden, one of its biggest annual fundraising galas. He expects there will need to be more demonstrations like Tuesday’s before the museum hears its workers’ plea. A spokesperson for MoMA, meanwhile, declined to comment on the outcome of Wednesday’s negotiations, but reiterated “that the Museum remains committed to providing fair and equitable compensation and healthcare for its employees, and that we are working toward a positive outcome for all concerned.”

As both sides dig in for more negotiation sessions over the next two weeks, MoMA’s Local 2110 members are making ingenious use of social media to call attention to their plight far beyond 53rd Street. Through the Instagram account @MoMALocal2110, the employees are offering brief profiles of the union members, each accompanied by a portrait and occasionally a pun or joke incorporating an artwork on view at the museum. The account, run jointly by a group of MoMA workers, helps to put faces, names, and stories to the often murky business of organized labor and contract negotiation.

(screenshot by the author from @MoMALocal2110/Instagram)

(screenshot by the author from @MoMALocal2110/Instagram)

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

7 replies on “Talks Between the MoMA and Its Workers Stall Following Protest”

  1. Modern art, ancient wages–what a great banner, what a great slogan. I have a fantasy that someone would make t-shirts and give them out for free and we can all go to MoMA and wear them while we roam the museum….

    1. I believe you mean “and sell them at cost” since the folks who make the t-shirts earn even less than museum workers and have even fewer workplace safety regulations.

      1. Oh god of course I wasn’t imagining that the museum workers would do that for the rest of us for free. Sorry that it came across sounding like that. I didn’t even know they had t-shirts, had only seen the banner. Was just having a fantasy about how great it would be to see mobs in the museum wandering about wearing a t-shirt with that slogan.

        1. I think the person above you is referring to how garment workers (who make t-shirts, etc.) are mistreated… see Rana Plaza disaster and the cost of making 1 t-shirt. Anyway, I do like the fantasy of people walking around the museum with t-shirts like that. It sounds like it would be an effective type of protest.

          1. Very true, she was referring to the garment workers. My bad. And she’s right. I would also never dream of having garment workers, who are so terribly paid, be the ones to give away free merch!

          2. and I may have over-reacted to “free” — my apologies. I come from a strong pro-union family, especially the women. My grandmothers were factory workers and they had harsh stories of harsh treatment, the kind of treatment that gave rise to unions. The subsequent generations who were raised with the assumption that things like a 40-hour work week, paid vacations, weekends off, a lunch hour, some degree of transparency about wages –even the simple dignity of being able to go to the bathroom as the need arises and without needing to justify it to a supervisor (who may be a sexual harasser) — are “the way it’s always been” are gravely mistaken. People fought hard and long, and sometimes died, to create that normality.
            There’s a long string of labor that goes into a t-shirt, or an exhibition, or even a light fixture that costs more than someone’s annual gross income. None of which is free or should be given away cheaply. That said – yes, let’s make the t-shirts, buy the t-shirts, and join the fight.

          3. Oh no, I don’t think you overreacted. Even without your family history, I think it makes good sense to feel as strongly as you do about the plight of garment workers, and moreso if you had that experience in your own family. It’s awful that unions have become so reduced in this country and that change has played such a part in workers being treated as you describe. MIserable. Anyway, all the best to you and long live the unions!

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