Local 30 protest truck in front of the Guggenheim Museum in New York (photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Today, September 30, a truck loaded with digital screens parked in front of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and blasted Fifth Avenue with Led Zepplin’s 1970s hit “Kashmir.”

The truck belonged to Local 30, the union representing art handlers and facilities staff at the Guggenheim, who staged a protest outside the museum during its members-only re-opening.

“We Deserve a Better Guggenheim,” read one of the messages on the mobile screen. Others read “Fair Contract Now” and “#DoBetterGuggenehim,” in addition to news clips and facts about the union’s year-long negotiations with the museum, which have yet to culminate in a collective bargaining contract.

A portrait of the Guggenheim’s director, Richard Armstrong, featured on the union’s protest truck

“The museum fought the workers’ union from the very beginning of this campaign and continues to fight them,” Andres Puerta, a representative of Local 30, told Hyperallergic.

“Other museums have reached collective bargaining agreements in less time,” he continued. “It’s a failure of the Guggenheim’s administration that they haven’t been able to reach an agreement with their workers.”

On September 24, an attorney representing the Guggenheim sent a letter to Local 30 asking the union to hold any future protests in a designated area on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 88th Street, down the street from the museum’s entrance. The attorney, Steven M. Swirsky of Epstein Becker Green, cited social distancing and COVID-19 regulations as the reasons for the request.

A message on the truck reads, “Guggenheim Takes $5-10 Million in Federally Funded Loans Meant to Protect Employees and Then Lays off 11% of Staff”
From left to right, the truck depicts portraits of Richard Armstrong, Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Duggal, and Chief Financial Officer Marcy Withington behind the words “Under Their Leadership.”

Local 30 dismissed the Guggenheim’s request and parked its protest truck defiantly in front of the museum’s entrance, closer to 89th Street.

“We think it’s outrageous that management believes that they can dictate where and how their workers protest them,” Puerta said. “This is just another example of their attitude in negotiations and why they failed to reach an agreement for over a year now.”

“Nobody is going to tell us how we can exercise our First Amendment rights,” Puerta added.

The Guggenheim Museum has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

A photograph of the Guggenheim union is depicted on all sides of the Local 30 truck in front of the museum

The next negotiation session between the workers and the museum’s management will be held tomorrow, October 1.

On Monday, September 28, the artist-activist groups Artists for Workers and the Illuminator staged a guerrilla projection onto the Guggenheim’s facade in solidarity with the union and workers at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. The projection illuminated the museum’s building with slogans like “Fair Contract,” “Seeking New Management,” and “Open for Exploitation.” The groups held their actions independently of the Guggenheim Union.

“We’ve seen a continued refusal by the management to listen to us when we told them what’s good for us, materially and otherwise,” said Bryan Cook, a member of the Guggenheim Union.

“There are people who have been working here for 20 years who haven’t received a pay raise,” Cook added. “We are trying to make the museum a better place for the workers, and that will make it a better workplace for the management, too.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...