Guggenheim Museum Ratifies First Contract With Unionized Workers

The union at the Guggenheim Museum has voted to ratify its first contract, with 97 percent of eligible employees supporting the two-and-a half-year bargaining agreement. The vote concludes a tense two years of negotiations between the unionized staff and museum administration, as the former staged demonstrations at high-profile events in a bid to bring attention to their cause.

“It feels great to have a contract that’s the culmination of all of our organizing efforts,” Julie K. Smitka, an associate producer at the museum, said in a statement. ”It’s transformative for our workplace. Not only are there increases that exceed what the Guggenheim historically granted, but we now have rights at work that are legally enforceable.”

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Per union spokesperson Maida Rosenstein, the agreement guarantees a minimum 9 percent wage increase over the next two and a half years, as well as increases in retirement contributions, four weeks paid family leave, and funding for career training retroactive to July 1. The contract also guarantees minimum rates for full- and part-time employees. (A summary of the contract can be found here.)

The alliance of conservators, curators, educators, visitor service and digital marketing workers, and administrative staff at the Guggenheim voted to join Local 2110 United Auto Worker (UAW) in 2021. UAW also represents workers at the New Museum and the Whitney Museum, among other cultural institutions in New York City.

The Guggenheim workers’ demands included wage equity, more transparency, and increased job security.

The move came two years after some 160 art handlers and facilities workers at the museum joined a separate labor organization, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30, which also includes workers at New York’s MoMA PS1. The three-year agreement ratified with Local 30 guaranteed salary increases by approximately 10 percent over the course of the contract. Unionized employees were no longer required to contribute to health insurance premiums, while improvements were promised to safety operations and scheduling protocols.

The Operating Engineers unit reached one of the first successful contracts in the wave of unionization seen by museums nationwide in the past five years. Other success stories include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum and more recently, the Whitney Museum.

“There is a spiritual aspect to labor just as there is to making art,” Alan Seise, public programs manager in the Guggenheim’s education department and a member of the union bargaining committee, said in a statement. “The contract puts into writing that the labor we all do at the museum is important, valuable, and worth protecting. It recognizes the dignity and humanity of everyone who works to enrich the lives of our visitors. I’m proud to have been a part of bringing the Guggenheim a little closer to the ‘Temple of the Spirit’ it was founded to be.”


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