The Brooklyn Museum was abuzz yesterday evening with the annual Brooklyn Artists Ball fundraising event honoring Carrie Mae Weems. By 6pm, staffers dressed in cocktail attire were gathered at the front of the museum, bargaining with the Smash Burger food truck to move up a few feet from its designated spot, and greeting VIP guests who were spilling out of Range Rovers. The mild weather and extended sunlight hours definitely added an element of enthusiasm, especially for the museum’s union staff that picketed the event, demanding a fair contract with improved wages across the board.
Compared to the union’s last rally on the frigid, rainy evening of November 16 at the Thierry Mugler: Couturissime event, last night’s turnout was significantly higher with additional support from workers at Local 2110 UAW and other unionized arts institution workers showing up in solidarity. That being said, it looks like there hasn’t been much improvement during negotiations in the last six months as the union staff demands to be heard.
“At the moment we really are stalled on the wage increases,” said Samantha Cortez, the museum’s senior registrar and bargaining committee member. “We’re asking for at least above a 9 to 10% increase or higher, and the museum won’t go even past 4%. It took them ages to even agree to that.”
Cortez clarified that the union is fighting for wage increases across the board and not for any particular branch of workers. She noted that despite some upward movement for the negotiations on behalf of part-time staffers, the Brooklyn Museum continues to live up to its reputation of providing some of the lowest wages of any art institution in the city. While the museum hasn’t participated in any tangible union-busting, Cortez said that the increase in non-union job postings with higher salaries and the promotion of union staff to non-union positions may as well be equivalent, echoing the sentiments that were addressed at the last rally.
The picketers and union staffers marched in line with signs while someone from Local 2110 UAW chanted “overworked and underpaid,” and other such slogans into a bullhorn. No music this time, except for the din of passing cars honking in support. Supporters from the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) union and other friends of the museum were on the scene as well, demanding fair wages for the staff.
The Brooklyn Museum’s fourth annual UOVO prize winner, filmmaker and researcher Suneil Sangziri, and his partner Maya Jeffereis marched with the picketers for about an hour before attending the Ball. “I’m also in the UAW and we just went on strike at the New School and won a fair contract, so I felt called to support in solidarity,” Sangziri told Hyperallergic. “It’s incredible to see this cross-cultural institution coalition,” Sangziri said, referencing the onsite solidarity from union members at BAM. “I think there needs to be more of it, and I think all of us who are involved in the arts have a responsibility to show up for the people who are literally the glue that holds our institutions together.”
Cortez said that the union will continue to picket at large events in order to raise awareness and get the attention of the museum’s administration and board of trustees, especially after the Whitney Museum union recently reached a fair contract. “We’re not going away and we’re going to keep making ourselves visible,” she concluded over the rally chants and hoots and honks of support from passersby.
“We respect the rights of our bargained employees to demonstrate safely and remain committed to reaching an agreement as soon as possible,” a spokesperson for the museum said in response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.