Reposted from Artnet News
In an unusual move, the Whitney Museum of American Art announced that it would voluntarily recognize employees’ petition to unionize.
The decision, which comes nearly two weeks after about 180 workers at the museum filed a petition to join the Technical, Office, and Professional Union of Local 2110, was first reported by Jacobin magazine on May 28. The Whitney staffers are the latest in a wave of museum workers to organize—but part of a very small group to have seen their unions voluntarily recognized by their employer in short order.
“We respect the desire of our colleagues to engage in a dialogue about collective bargaining, as is their legal right, and we remain committed to supporting all staff, regardless of affiliation,” a representative for the Whitney Museum said in a statement.
The Whitney staff’s unionization comes at a time when the museum has cut back on staff amid pandemic-induced budget shortfalls. In February, 15 staffers across 11 departments were cut in an effort to address $23 million in losses. That downsizing followed an earlier round in April 2020 when 76 employees, most of whom worked in visitor services-related roles, were laid off.
“The layoffs were a wake-up call to the need for better protection,” Karissa Francis, a visitor-services assistant who has helmed the unionization effort, said in a statement. “We realized we would have to band together to negotiate for better working conditions.”
The Whitney staff’s petition with the National Labor Relations Board coincided with another one filed by the Hispanic Society of America in New York. That museum did not respond to a request for comment on where negotiations stand.
“At many of these institutions, there are corporate boards and highly paid leaders, and yet people on the ground who do the work are paid very low salaries,” Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, which represents the Whitney employees and many other museum workers, told Artnet News when the Whitney first filed its petition.
Employees at museums around the country have been mobilizing to unionize en masse for about two years, with high-profile examples at the New Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York as well as the Philadelphia Museum, the MFA Boston, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. (Like the Whitney, MOCA also voluntarily recognized its union.)
Protests stemming from historically low wages and a lack of job security spurred the first wave of union drives, while mass layoffs and furloughs during the pandemic have sparked a second wave of organizing over the past year.
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