Unionized employees at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) voted by a 96% margin to go on strike this Friday, August 19. They plan to picket outside a museum entrance from 8am to 6pm that day and urge visitors to support their fight for a first contract.
MASS MoCA’s union, which formed in April 2021 with United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110, has been bargaining with museum leadership for around a year and is dismayed that its first contract remains elusive. The union seeks a minimum wage of $18 per hour in the contract’s first year, with steady annual increases that would bring that baseline to approximately $20 per hour by the end of 2024. The museum’s counterproposal is a minimum wage of $16 per hour, with no wage assurances for 2023 and 2024, according to the union. Currently, the average wage within the bargaining unit is $17.30 per hour, with two-thirds of workers making less than $15.50 per hour.
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“Workers voted overwhelmingly to go on strike because the museum’s offer, particularly for the lowest paid workers, is simply unfair,” Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, said in an interview with Hyperallergic. “It’s a very lowball offer, and there are no guaranteed increases over the life of the contract.”
The Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator estimates that a single individual with no children living in Berkshire County in Massachusetts would need to make over $40,000 per year to achieve a “modest yet adequate standard of living.” The museum’s standing offer equates to a minimum annual salary of around $33,000.
“We have asked our members to strike because MASS MoCA has not bargained in good faith on a fair contract for the employees who make it so successful,” Maro Elliott, the museum’s manager of institutional giving, said in a statement, adding that an agreement would “create a more accessible, equitable, and just workplace.”
Elliott characterized MASS MoCA’s tone toward the union as “antagonistic” and said that representatives told members of the bargaining committee that “arts and artists come first.”
“We all love MASS MoCA but we also have to live,” Elliott added.
Just months ago, the museum settled a charge filed by the union for failing to grant a regular annual increase to unionized employees. As part of the settlement, the museum retroactively paid out increases to employees. Local 2110 has additionally filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board for MASS MoCA’s “bad faith bargaining” and for a promise it made to give raises to individual employees on the condition that they successfully convince the union to back down on its demands.
Rosenstein echoed Elliott’s complaints about museum leadership’s negotiation tactics, calling them “coercive.” She said that upon learning about the impending strike, museum leaders sent an “extremely nasty” email to bargaining committee members encouraging workers to cross the picket line. (When Hyperallergic reached out to MASS MoCA about this email, Jenny Wright, MASS MoCA’s director of strategic communications and advancement, represented the email as “an FAQ informing employees of their legal right to strike or not strike.”) The position that leadership was taking, Rosenstein opined, was “more reminiscent of Amazon or Walmart than a museum.”
“While we respect our employees’ right to strike as a means of expressing their views, we are also disappointed in their decision, given the positive and collaborative environment that we have worked to foster during our collective bargaining process with the UAW,” Wright said. Wright furthered that leadership had made “significant progress towards reaching a contract” and was looking forward “to getting back to the bargaining table to continue our negotiations.”
MASS MoCA plans to remain open on Friday, with management and leadership filling key front-of-the-house posts.
“Many of us live locally in North Adams. By raising hourly rates to something more livable, MASS MoCA would not only be supporting its employees, but helping lift the community,” Isabel Twanmo, a box office representative, said in a statement.