Kara Stokowski, a member of the MFA Boston’s Union Bargaining Committee and a museum educator, wearing a costume during a picket line for the union’s November 2021 strike. (photo courtesy Union Local 2110 UAW)

Workers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) achieved a victory on Tuesday, June 28, when over 200 staff members voted to ratify their first union contract. Efforts to unionize the museum began in the summer of 2019 and the staff voted overwhelmingly to join Union Local 2110 UAW in November 2020.

The new contract brings higher wages: Workers will receive increases of at least 5% starting July 1, with some getting double-digit raises, and salaries will increase again by 3% next year and in 2024 for an estimated 13.5% improvement over the contract’s three-year term. It will also secure better transportation and retirement benefits and workplace diversity training, and establish a grievance procedure and a Labor Management Committee, two mainstays of unionized workplaces.

The road to negotiating a contract was far from smooth: In November of last year, over 200 workers went on strike in the wake of stalled negotiations, accusing museum leadership of inadequately addressing union demands.

“After our one-day strike, the pace of negotiations stepped up,” said MFA library associate and union bargaining committee member Jordan Barnes in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “We were able to reach tentative agreements on many important non-money items that were previously stumbling blocks, and start focusing on compensation issues.” The statement adds that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who offered her support to both the union and the museum in negotiations, was crucial to securing today’s deal.

Local 2110 UAW represents workers at other esteemed museums — including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum — many of whom have also struggled to negotiate satisfactory contracts.

“This contract is a structural breakthrough for museum workers who have been underpaid as a group for years,” Martina Tanga, curatorial research and interpretation associate at the MFA, said in the statement. Notably, the contract also does away with a 2006 pay structure that favored staff in departments such as finance and fundraising but not those in traditional library or museum roles.

The increased wages and improved benefits will affect 227 workers at the MFA. In a press release, MFA Director Matthew Teitelbaum said: “As we continue to manage the disruption of the pandemic and in the midst of significant inflation, we believe this agreement and our investment across the organization are the right decision, meeting our employees’ needs and ultimately strengthening the entire MFA to continue serving our community.”

The MFA’s new contract comes as unionization efforts continue to sweep museums nationwide.

“Over the years, museums have focused their investment in building expansions and high-value acquisitions,” Tanga said. “The wave of museum unionizing across the nation is a clear sign that it’s time museums recognize and reward the valuable contribution of museum employees.”

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.