This morning, January 11, a group of New Museum employees gathered in the lobby of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, donning royal blue T-shirts reading “LOCAL 2110: WE DESERVE A FAIR CONTRACT.” The reason? Yesterday, New Museum staffers announced that they have initiated the process to form the New Museum Union.
The organizers filed a letter with the Labor Relations Board calling for a January 17 vote to establish a union. The group is currently comprised of 74 workers across departments of the museum. On their website, the staffers wrote, “We have organized as the Organizing Committee of the New Museum Union (NewMuU of UAW Local 2110) because we take great pride in the Museum’s legacy and we are committed to its success, its health, and its future growth.”
Local 2110 UAW, a union for technical, office, and professional workers in New York, is also responsible for union branches at the Museum of Modern Art, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the New-York Historical Society.
Hyperallergic spoke with New Museum employees Dana Kopel and Alicia Graziano in a phone interview. Kopel called this morning’s action to raise awareness about the effort an “amazing and moving show of solidarity” among “those who have been organizing, those who have taken a real risk with our jobs and our lives.” Kopel and Graziano say that the group does not yet have a concrete list of demands, and will first be organizing among staff members to encourage them to vote in favor of establishing the union to open up collective bargaining.
In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, the New Museum said:
The New Museum was founded as a flexible and experimental space for cutting edge artists and thinkers to express their views, including on the changing nature of museums. This mission has served as a bedrock tenet for the New Museum and guides our ongoing program every day. Our employees make this work possible, and we hold them in the highest regard.
A group of employees recently petitioned to form a bargaining unit. We want them to make a fully informed decision. In the meantime, we look forward to working with our staff to serve our audience and community.
However, in a statement published on Thursday, the union organizers claim that the museum has hired Kentucky-based consulting firm, Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan, which advertises its “union avoidance” services, to head what the organizers call “a harsh union-busting campaign.” ARTnews, which broke the news of the proposed union on Thursday, reports that no members of the museum’s upper management were present at this morning’s action.
Kopel says that certain union-supporters have been “falsely classified as supervisors to weaken support for the union” and disallow them from operating as official union members. The pair also says that throughout the week, a consultant from Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan has been meeting one-on-one with union supporters.
Maida Rosenstein, president of the Local 2110 UAW, told Hyperallergic in a phone interview that the Local 2110 had been working with the New Museum staffers since this summer’s union bargaining at MoMA. Kopel and Graziano say this was coincidental, as that the New Museum staffers had long been in discussion to organize their own union. However, Graziano says, “It definitely galvanized us and showed us it was possible.” In the past, Kopel says, museum employees (including herself) have attempted to bargain for raises and were typically met with “evasion and lying.”
Rosenstein told Hyperallergic that her hope for the New Museum is that, “Instead of seeing this as a threat, they will see it as an opportunity to collaborate and work toward a much stronger, sustainable institution that has staff that are committed to the institution and have a commitment to staying there, and an administration that has the ability to have dialogue [with workers].” She added, “I think people have been holding very strong and have not been dissuaded by the consulting firm and their misinformation [about the need to avoid unions].”
The organizers say their goal is a return to the aims of the New Museum’s late founder Marcia Tucker, who hoped to work toward “a collaborative, self-critical, and ‘transparent’ organizational model.”
“As a museum and as a community, we have always championed diversity, equity, and progress. This distinguishes us as an art institution historically and, we hope, today as well — both in New York and globally,” the union organizers write on their website. “Our mission centers intersectional feminist concerns and cross-cultural dialogue, and our exhibitions, programs, and initiatives aim to model inclusivity and access. We ask, above all, that these ideals be mirrored in the Museum’s hiring and staffing. We believe that fair compensation for all workers throughout the museum is essential to ensuring its diversity: salaries, wages, and benefits at the museum must be sustainable for everyone, regardless of the privileges afforded them by race, class, or gender.”
Kopel elaborated to Hyperallergic that the union effort, “It truly is coming from a place of care for the museum’s employees.”
Graziano added, “The museum is more than just a building, the museum is all of us … Yes, we’re pro-union. But we’re also pro-New Museum.”