Staff at American Folk Art Museum, Glenstone Museum Vote to Unionize

Staff at the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland, have voted to unionize.

The election results among staff at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) were unanimously in favor on June 6. Voting with UAW Local 2110 occurred a month after workers at the institution announced their intention to organize for a variety of issues including fair wages and better benefits.

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AFAM was created in 1961 and changed its name from the Museum of Early American Folk Arts in 2001. The institution’s public galleries are located near the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in Manhattan, while its administrative offices, archives, and collections center are located in Long Island City, Queens. The museum’s collection of approximately 8,000 works of art from the United Stated and abroad, with the oldest examples from the turn of the eighteenth century. The union will include curatorial, retail, education, and information technology staff.

Other institutions located in New York City and across the Northeast that have unionized with UAW Local 2110 include the Dia Art Foundation, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

On June 6 and 7, hourly-wage employees at the Glenstone Museum held their own vote, joining Teamsters Local 639. A press statement said the group of 89 workers included all of the institution’s hourly guides, café workers, registration, grounds, engineering and maintenance, community engagement, and housekeeping staff. 

Glenstone staffers have called for livable wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. A press statement on the vote said that many of the hourly workers had second jobs, part-time employees did not receive health care benefits, and that staff had been forced to work outdoors “during extreme heat and cold”.

A private museum, Glenstone was founded by billionaires Mitchell and Emily Wei Rales for the couple’s personal collection in 2006. The couple live across a pond from the institution’s galleries and have appeared on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors List since 2010. A expansion of the museum, designed by architect Thomas Phifer, was completed in 2018 at an estimated cost of $219 million.

According to the Washington Post, staffers faced union-busting strategies from museum leadership, including an appeal signed by Mitchell and Emily Wei Rales delivered to the homes of workers on June 3. The letter stated, “It is our sincere hope that you give due consideration to voting NO and keeping the Teamsters out of this special place we’ve built together.”

“We have said from the beginning of this process that we respect the right of our associates to decide whether to join a union,” the museum said in a statement to The Washington Post, which first reported the news of the union election results. “We accept the results of this election and intend to negotiate in good faith with the goal of achieving an equitable contract for the members of this new bargaining unit.”

“These workers defeated a sophisticated union-busting assault personally waged by some of the wealthiest people in America,” Local 639 president Bill Davis said in a statement. “I want to welcome them to our local union, and I look forward to helping them negotiate a first Teamsters contract.” 

Source: artnews.com

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