Striking workers picketed outside the home of Board Chair Philippe de Montebello last month. (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)

Workers at Manhattan’s Hispanic Society of America signed their first union contract Friday, May 19, ending a two-month-long strike. The museum’s professional employees (around 20 people) unionized with UAW Local 2110 in the summer of 2021 after museum leadership eliminated their pension plan. The workers had long accepted lower pay in exchange for a pension and free healthcare.

Contract negotiations began in September 2021. Since then, Local 2110 has lodged five unfair labor practice charges against the museum. Allegations of union busting emerged when the museum offered to maintain current employees’ free healthcare plans but mandated that new workers pay 10% to 25% of the insurance premium. Under the newly signed contract, existing employees and new employees who make less than $85,000 will receive fully paid healthcare. Onboarded workers who earn more than that will pay 5% to 15% of their premiums and the museum will cover deductibles.

“We are pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached which serves the best interest of our community and staff,” a Hispanic Society spokesperson told Hyperallergic. “We are excited to move forward in a positive way that will benefit the future of The Hispanic Society Museum and Library.”

Among other provisions, the contract includes raises and minimum pay hikes averaging 18.2% retroactive to January 19, 2023; a new 403(b) employer contribution plan; severance pay; and a $500 professional development fund for workers.

The Hispanic Society, a museum of predominantly Spanish and Portuguese art, is housed in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. It has been closed to the public for renovation since 2017 (except for a small exhibition space) and will reopen on May 25, a spokesperson said. The museum did not pay the unionized workers during the protracted strike. The employees received $500 from the Local 2110 strike fund and additional income from a crowdsourced “hardship fund.”

Patrick Lenaghan, a print and photography curator who has worked at the institution for 28 years, told Hyperallergic that the union was able to “preserve fully paid health benefits for the vast majority of the union.”

“I think it’s a good contract and a solid foundation to build upon,” said Lenaghan, who added that many of the workers had not received raises since 2018 and that the new contract increased salaries for some of the unit’s lowest-paid workers.

“We are a small team and we were always close, but our solidarity deepened during the strike, and that made it possible for us to get through this together,” Lenaghan continued. “I think we come back as a stronger team that is looking forward to our work.”

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.