Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (by Bill Damon via Flickr)

Workers from more than 30 departments at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) have voted overwhelmingly to form a union. In a National Labor Relations Board election held last Friday, staff voted 133-14 in favor of unionization with Union Local 2110 UAW.

“Staff have been requesting changes, more transparency, a compensation study and its results, a plan for diversifying our workforce, for many years. In a large institution like the MFA, prioritization is always a struggle,” said Emma Rose Rainville, the museum’s Development Officer for Foundation and Government Relations, in a statement.

“I believe that by voting in a union, the wishes and concerns of the staff, the lifeblood of the Museum, will be better prioritized and the MFA will be stronger as a result,” she added.

The MFA Union will include over 200 workers across departments at the museum — from educators, conservators, and curators to front-facing staff, IT specialists, and administrators, among others — that are not already represented by a labor union.

Union ballots were mailed out to all eligible workers on October 21 and were counted on Friday, November 20, over a public Zoom call overseen by more than 20 observers, primarily MFA staff. UAW Local 2110, which also represents employees at MoMA and the New Museum in New York, as well as local Boston University staff and Harvard graduate workers, will now begin the process of bargaining a contract with the MFA.

Among the MFA Union’s priorities for the contract are fair compensation, including annual cost-of-living increases; opportunities for advancement; workplace equity and diversity; affordable healthcare options; and support for work/life balance, including parental and care leave.

Efforts to form a collective bargaining unit began at the MFA in the summer of 2019. In a statement on its website, the union laments that representation was not in place by the time the pandemic hit, to help ensure adequate protections for employees. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MFA furloughed 314 full- and part-time staff. Later this summer, the museum announced a “reorganization” impacting a total of 113 employees: 57 were laid off and 56 others opted for voluntary early retirement. (Furloughed staff were eligible to vote in the union election.)

Jon Feng, a Members and Visitors Services Representative, said the union will redistribute power to “give greater consideration to those in the most precarious positions.”

“Genuine inclusiveness will require us to exclude the contradicting principles and methods currently in place,” Feng said. “I believe in our ability to work together to negotiate and then uphold a more just workplace for all.” 

“This election was important for our staff and for the MFA as an institution,” said the MFA Boston in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “We have said throughout this process that above all, we support our employees’ right to make this decision and we want to ensure all voices are heard. We are pleased that the election played out smoothly and fairly, and we are committed to working with the union moving forward.”

“Despite the challenges we face in the current environment, we continue to believe the MFA has made progress toward our mission and goals, and we believe that we are on the right path to achieve new possibilities together with our employees and the community.”

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...