On October 3, as the Guggenheim Museum reopened to the general public after being closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum’s union held a rally protesting the museum’s continued failure to secure a contract with its workers. Succeeding a similar, smaller rally at the museum’s members-only reopening on September 30, this month’s action was organized with the support of IUOE Local 30. The event included a truck with a digital screen displaying various messages, as well as “Scabby,” a giant inflatable rat often used during union strikes and protests. Amazing Industries filmmaker Brett Wallace documented the rally, and he and the Guggenheim Union negotiators have shared his short film with Hyperallergic.
Various facilities staff and art handlers at the Guggenheim voted to unionize and join Local 30 last year. Since then, the museum has not agreed to an initial contract with this union. Additional concerns have been raised from various departments regarding alleged racism, sexism, and abuse from several executives at the museum, culminating in the anonymous coalition A Better Guggenheim demanding the resignation of Richard Armstrong, the museum’s director, and two other top executives, Elizabeth Duggal, and Nancy Spector.
The pandemic has intensified issues at the institution, with the Guggenheim refusing to pay on-call employees for work scheduled before the lockdown and laying off dozens of staff. Other recent protest actions by the Guggenheim Union include using the Illuminator to project damning messages on the museum’s façade.
The Guggenheim sent this statement to Hyperallergic: “Since reopening to the public, we have been continuing to meet with Local 30 for bargaining sessions and to work with the union on resolving the remaining open matters. We continue to negotiate in good faith and to work towards a fair resolution that addresses our employees’ concerns and the long-term financial health of the Museum. We are grateful for the contributions of our committed and talented staff who bring to life the exhibitions that connect art to our visitors.”
You can watch Wallace’s short here:
“The bargaining sessions we had were slow and fruitless, so we decided to get their attention with an action on October 3,” Local 30 representative Bob Wilson told Hyperallergic in a statement. “The Guggenheim workers, along with their Local 30 brothers and sisters, sent a strong message on the museum’s opening day. This demonstration was about respect and demanding that the administration acknowledge the rights and the voice of their workers.”
“[The protest] had the desired effect, as negotiations have been scheduled more frequently and the administration seems to have woken up to the fact that their PR-driven statements are not enough; the union demands respect, and will take action to get it,” Wilson added.