Workers at the Whitney Museum of American Art voted to ratify their first union contract today, March 6. Employees and museum leadership reached the labor agreement after 16 months of bargaining. The three-and-a-half-year contract provides substantial raises, especially for the museum’s lowest-paid workers.
In May 2021, 185 Whitney staff members petitioned to join UAW Local 2110, which represents employees at other New York institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum. The decision fell amidst a wave of unionization efforts sweeping cultural centers across the country. The Whitney had laid off 20% of its staff since the onset of the pandemic. Half of the museum’s workers made less than $20 an hour and a large body of temporary workers did not receive benefits.
Since then, union members have staged high-profile protests, including an action during the VIP opening of the 2022 Whitney Biennial and a picket outside of an important fundraising gala. However, employees’ wages remained unchanged as contract negotiations inched along.
Under the new contract, staff members who made the minimum hourly rate of $17 will now be paid $22, retroactive to January 1, 2023. By the end of June 2025, these workers will earn $24 per hour.
Minimum wages will also increase across the museum’s five pay sectors. On average, workers will receive an additional 15% in compensation, retroactive to January 1 for all employees. The union members will also receive $1,000 signing bonuses and 9.5% raises over the course of their new contract.
A museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic the institution was pleased to reach an agreement with the union. “After negotiating in good faith for many months, we have finalized a contract that serves the best interests of our staff,” they said. “We look forward to a longstanding and productive working relationship with 2110.”
“We’re excited to have a contract that recognizes our contribution to the Museum,” facilities supervisor Sandy LaPorte said in a Local 2110 statement emailed to Hyperallergic. “We work out of the limelight and have sometimes felt underappreciated and unheard. With this contract, our jobs are protected and we have a voice at the Museum.”
Other stipulations improve the museum’s safety protocols and require the Whitney to offer extra hours to permanent workers before hiring new temporary ones.
The agreement also provides for temporary workers, who will now receive paid holidays and the newly negotiated minimum wages, and will be given preference for filling permanent roles.
“As a curatorial project employee who has worked at the Whitney for five years, I am heartened that this contract ensures that so many staff, including those hired on temporary or grant-funded projects, will be protected by our contract with a path to longer-term employment,” said curatorial research Ramsay Kolber. “Unionization in our field is a way to make long-term careers in museums more sustainable and equitable.”
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