MASS MoCA Union members on strike in August (all images courtesy MASS MoCA Union)

Workers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) have officially ratified their first union contract after 14 months of tense negotiations. Signed on Tuesday, December 13, the collective bargaining agreement establishes wage increases across departments plus legal protections, equity commitments, and the ability to further negotiate wages over the next two years.

Originally formed in April 2021, the MASS MoCA Union is composed of about 100 staff members under United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110, which represents fellow New England bargaining units at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Portland Maine Museum of Art, and elsewhere. While more than two-thirds of MoCA workers made less than $15.50 per hour, the wage floor has now risen to $16.25 per hour. Additionally, the contract establishes a financial aid program for employees facing sudden hardship, just cause and fair grievance laws, and bonuses for retirement-eligible employees.

For Maro Elliott, MASS MoCA’s manager of institutional giving, the inaugural contract is a major relief after more than a year of “antagonistic” discussions with leadership.

“The contract was accomplished through the unwavering strength of our union members, as well as our supporters throughout the North Adams community,” Elliott told Hyperallergic. “We are proud to be part of a movement that is prioritizing the well-being of workers and making material gains.” She added that wages have gone up for 90% of workers, including those with the lowest pre-contract wages, and anyone whose wage did not increase by at least 5% will receive a bonus.

Since 2021, the MASS MoCA Union has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for alleged unfair labor practices, such as “direct dealing” with individual organizers and failing to grant annual wage increases — the latter of which led them to receive retroactive payment through June 2022. Then, on August 19, they held a one-day strike over “lowball” wages and prolonged negotiations. 

In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, MASS MoCA’s new director Kristy Edmunds, who was appointed late last year, said she was “tremendously grateful” to museum patrons and supporters.

“The way forward requires a shared optimism for the future, and the ability to meet our field-wide challenges with creativity and care,” Edmunds said. “We are steadfast in our commitment to manifest positive change throughout our organization, starting with the people who work here, the communities we serve, and the artists who are the backbone of our mission.”

MASS MoCA Union members on strike in August

MASS MoCA Union is one of many museum bargaining units in the United States undergoing contract ratifications. After a three-week strike, the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union established its first contract in late October, while unionized workers at the Brooklyn Museum and Whitney Museum continue to plan direct actions against delayed negotiations. Former Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein, who reportedly retired in June but continues to help ratify first contracts, claimed there may still be issues going forward, but MoCA is revealing its willingness to work with them.

“This has been a very long process with difficult negotiations,” Rosenstein told Hyperallergic. “Leadership has campaigned against the union throughout this process by mischaracterizing their efforts and trying to divide the unit. At the end of the day, though, the museum realized it was important to come to terms with the workers they depend on.”

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.