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Front of House Staff at the Shed Seek to Unionize

The staff, who have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, claim that “working conditions were not up to par.”

The Shed (photo by Zachary Small for Hyperallergic)

Front of house staff at the Shed, a multidisciplinary cultural institution in New York City that opened last year, are looking to unionize. Hyperallergic confirmed the news with Maida Rosenstein, President of Local 2110 UAW (United Auto Workers), an amalgamated union that is working with the employees. She said that they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday and are seeking a union election as soon as possible. 

The Shed’s front of house staff work in the institution’s Visitor Experience Associates (VXA) department and include gallery guides, ticket takers, and ushers, among other part-time, hourly workers. According to Rosenstein, their decision comes from a desire to have a voice in their terms and conditions of employment and make their livelihood and employment more sustainable.

Thanu Yakupitiyage’s political performance at the shed in August 2019 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Shed is part of the larger and controversial Hudson Yards complex which also includes the Vessel, a $200 million sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick that was reproached and borderline mocked by architecture critics, and a luxury mall complex. The entire development is estimated to have cost over $20 billion. News that Stephen Ross, a board member at the Shed and real estate developer, would be hosting a fundraiser for President Donald Trump in Southampton last summer prompted further outcry. DJ Thanu Yakupitiyage, who was part of the Shed’s inaugural Open Call show, staged a performance piece that included audio clips of Ross bragging about Hudson Yards alongside the voices of migrants. The real-estate tycoon later resigned from the institution “to focus on his other philanthropic activities.”

The Vessel, which sits in the foreground of the Shed at Hudson Yards (photo by Zachary Small for Hyperallergic)

JP Diaz, a Visitor Experience Associate at the Shed, says his department has around 82 employees, including an estimated 13 recent hires. They began hosting weekly and biweekly meetings last summer to exchange ideas. “What led us to ultimately organize and mobilize was the fact that there were things at the Shed that were not to our liking, in the sense that there was a lot of ambiguity regarding policies and expectations, and ultimately the working conditions were not up to par,” he told Hyperallergic. He says he has enjoyed his work at the Shed otherwise, and hopes the collective bargaining process will give him and his colleagues the tools to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

“The people who make up the department are not only the front-facing staff, but they ultimately are the representation of what The Shed could offer to the community,” he said. “Our job is much more than just telling you where to go or what not to touch. It ultimately makes up that institution’s identity. We want to make sure our hard work and labor is properly recognized.”

Rosenstein expressed hope that the Shed will embrace their decision. “There are thousands of workers in cultural institutions in the arts and education in the city that are unionized, and it really should be considered the norm for workers to be able to unionize without interference from their employer or delay tactics,” she said. “Many workers in arts and cultural institutions and in publishing work very hard for very little compensation, yet make an essential contribution. It’s time to change the dynamics.”

In an email, a spokesperson for the Shed told Hyperallergic, “We respect workers’ rights and, above all else, we value our incredibly talented and hard-working staff. Whatever the outcome, we will support our employees in their decision on this matter.”

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