Yesterday, March 30, workers at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum rallied outside the Manhattan museum during the VIP opening of the exhibitions Gego: Measuring Infinity and Sarah Sze: Timelapse. Staff, some of whom worked on the exhibitions, gathered to raise awareness and pressure the museum for better wages and job security, continuing their efforts during the press opening today.
For over a year, the Guggenheim Museum Union — part of the Technical, Office, and Professional (TOP) union, Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers — has been negotiating with the museum for a first contract. Maida Rosenstein, the union’s lead negotiator, told Hyperallergic that the museum offered a “low-ball” wage increase of 9.75% over a four-year contract. Museum staff is demanding a minimum 16.5% increase over the same period, a raise in hourly rates for front-facing staff and theater technicians, and protection for project-based employees.
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“The staff has felt undervalued,” said Rosenstein. “They are the people who make things happen here and suffer from historically low wages.”
Manager of Public Programs Alan Seise echoed Rosenstein’s sentiments. He told Hyperallergic they chose last night for their demonstration because of the exhibitions: a retrospective for German-Venezuelan artist Gertrud Goldschmidt, known as Gego, and a solo show of New York-based artist Sarah Sze’s installations. Seise believes the museum aimed to present a “progressive image” that night, signaling to the art world that it showcases the work of a diverse group of artists. However, that supposed commitment to diversity rings hollow to workers who are not receiving a fair wage.
“It means very little if you’re not going to put your money where your mouth is, in my opinion,” Seise said.
In a statement, the Guggenheim told Hyperallergic that they are negotiating with workers “in good faith.”
“We are committed to maintaining a respectful and positive work environment for all members of the Guggenheim’s exceptional staff,” a museum spokesperson said.
Curators, conservators, and other professional staff unionized in October 2021 after filing a petition in July. Employees joined the union representing staff in similar positions at institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Hispanic Society of America. The move to unionize came after the Guggenheim signed a contract with the union representing the museum’s art handlers and facilities staff in February of the same year.
Along Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile and clustered around the crosswalks, union members approached attendees and passersby, handing out leaflets and encouraging drivers to “Honk 4 Fair Wages.” While many breezed by in a rush, some stopped to take the handout and commented they were surprised to hear that Guggenheim staff were unionized. Manager of Visitor Experiences Nicolette Zorn told Hyperallergic that they’ve mostly had a positive reception from visitors and neighborhood residents wanting to learn more about their efforts.
“It is important for us to show management that the public and the supporters of the museum support the workers,” Zorn said.