The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (image courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Either the Metropolitan Museum of Art maintains climate control across its 2-million-square-feet of space or irreparable damage could befall its collection of ancient artifacts and delicate artworks.

Last week, the maintenance workers responsible for keeping that fragile balance of heating and cooling intact received a 63 percent pay increase across the museum’s three campuses, which include the Met Cloisters and the Met Breuer. The agreement comes after more than a year of negotiations between the institution and Local 1503, a chapter of DC 37 that represents HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) workers.

“We were very straight forward with management,” Local 1503 President Rawle Campbell said, according to a report by Diane S. Williams. “The solution is simple: Pay workers their worth and retention and other problems will go away.”

Details of the agreement include a raise for licensed HVAC assistant maintainers from $22 to $35 per hour. New hires are also seeing an impressive increase in annual pay from $45,760 to $72,800. Seven senior HVAC engineers will earn about $81,000 and HVAC supervisors will take home $86,000, a 22 percent wage increase over previous years.

“This is a major win,” Campbell added. “It’s still not the $42 industry prevailing pay rate but when you consider the work we did to increase members’ wages, training and upgrades, and add the union benefits and pension package, HVAC workers at the Met are very happy!”

According to members of Local 1503, the Met has struggled to retain maintenance workers in its engineering department with the problem peaking in 2017. For about a year, the museum was down to 15 engineers from about 35.

“They frequently worked double shifts and at times triple shifts, six or seven days a week,” explained Dan McCabe, who works for the union. “Because the museum paid significantly lower wages, no one applied for the HVAC postings or they’d only stay a year and leave for better pay elsewhere.”

The Metropolitan Museum declined to comment.

Campbell said that negotiations began after management initially floated the idea of contracting the work out. It was then that the union suggested raising wages to attract and retain licensed HVAC workers.

The agreement will open 14 new positions and a title upgrade for HVAG Engineers; additionally, employees will get advanced training and testing specific to operating the Met’s massive ventilation system.

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have...