After Recent Layoffs, Nearly 200 Whitney Museum Workers Push to Unionize

Nearly 200 employees at the Whitney Museum in New York are part of an effort to establish a union. According to a report by the New York Times, which first reported the news, a petition seeking a union vote was filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the Technical, Office, and Professional Union, Local 2110 UAW.

Among those involved in the organizing effort at the museum are curators, editors, visitor services workers, conservators, educators, porters, and other employees. Whitney Museum employees cite job insecurity, wage inequities, health and safety, and pandemic-related layoffs as some of their motivations for creating a union.

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“We want to build on the legacy of the Whitney by ensuring that, as a workforce, innovation comes with respect, integrity, and fairness,” Karissa Francis, a visitor service assistant at the museum, said in a statement. “We believe that forming a union will strengthen the institution because we, the workers who make the institution run, will be collectively advocating for better terms and conditions of our employment.”

The Whitney laid off 76 workers last April amid the onset of the pandemic. It cut 15 more staff members earlier this year due to financial fallout precipitated by the global health crisis. Francis said in a release that “the lay-offs were a wake-up call to the need for better protection, and we realized we would have to band together to negotiate for better working conditions,” adding, “Unionizing is about our right to live and work in this city with dignified wages and healthcare.”

“The Whitney respects the staff’s desire to engage in a dialogue about collective bargaining and remains committed to supporting all staff, regardless of union affiliation,” the museum said in a statement.

The Whitney staff members’ move to unionize follows similar labor organizing at art institutions across the U.S. in recent years. Employees at MASS MoCA filed a petition to unionize in March, and workers at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine voted to unionize in April. In 2019, the union at the New Museum in New York agreed to a five-year contract with the institution, and workers at the city’s Guggenheim Museum voted to unionize that same year.


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