New Museum staffers in the museum lobby on January 11 to promote their proposed union (image courtesy of Dana Kopel)

After months of strained bargaining, and days after New Museum workers threatened their employer with a strike, members of the New Museum union have signed a five-year contract with the museum’s management. The agreement was announced yesterday, October 1, after a marathon of negotiations over this past weekend.

The new contract marks a win for the union, which was formed in January of this year. “[The contract] will substantially improves wages and benefits for members of the union and establishes numerous workplace protections,” Dana Kopel, a representative of New Museum Union, wrote Hyperallergic in an email.

Under the new agreement, the wages of full-time staff will increase by an average of 8% in the first year of the contract. Wages for regular part-time employees will be increased to a minimum of $18–$20 per hour in that time period. By the end of the contract, these employees will earn between $20.50 and $22.50 per hour. Hourly workers in visitor services and the museum store, who are mostly part-time, will receive average pay increases of 15%.

According to the union, a new four-grade classification system was set for full-time staff with minimum rates ranging from $46,000 to $68,500 annually. The workers achieved an across-the-board pay increase of 3% in the first four years of the contract, with a 3.5% increase in the final year. The museum has committed to reducing employee health care contributions and increased paid time off. It also agreed to offer pay differentials for overtime-exempt employees who work long hours during exhibition periods, and for employees temporarily filling in for another employee on leave. And lastly, the museum agreed to privilege on-call art handlers and registrars over outside contractors.

“The Museum made a strong offer this summer, and over the last couple months both parties came together to reach consensus,” a spokesperson for the New Musem wrote Hyperallergic in an email. “This new contract will benefit the Museum staff and set new benchmarks for institutions of our size.”

Bargaining between the two sides started in March of this year. In the months since then, members of the  New Museum Union have accused the museum’s management of stalling the talks, but the museum denies this claim. In June, the workers rallied outside the museum to protest the management’s resistance to their demands. On Friday, September 27, the workers escalated their fight with a vote authorizing a strike if their demands are not met. The threat of strike preceded a major retrospective of the works of German artist Hans Haacke, scheduled to open at the museum on October 23.

“The New Museum has invested in our staff and will continue to do so to promote a diverse and thriving culture,” the New Museum’s spokesperson added. “We look forward to continuing to work together to advance the Museum’s important mission.”

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...