After months of behind-the-scenes discussions and debates, installers, maintenance workers, and art handlers at the Guggenheim museum in New York voted on Thursday to join a union. They will now be affiliated with International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 30, which also includes workers at MoMA PS1.
Issues that led workers to seek to organize included wages, schedules, and benefits. Both full- and part-time workers were represented in the vote. The news is the latest in a series of unionization efforts or protests by museum workers, amid increasing foment about conditions within the sector.
“It was clear long before this recent push to unionization that we need a way to bargain collectively with the Museum,” Zachary Petersen, who works in art services and preparation, wrote to fellow workers in the lead-up to the vote in a statement supporting unionization, shared with artnet News. “To put it simply, they have an organization, we need one… I sincerely believe a YES vote on unionization will bring about a better future for everyone involved; for the employees in terms of better compensation and working conditions, and for the Museum itself in terms of a better overall product to the viewing public and an even better standing in the art world at large.”
The campaign involved much fierce debate among affected Guggenheim employees, about the merits of unionization and the merits of working with IUOE Local 30 specifically. Another employee, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote following a previous artnet News story that he felt that he was being “railroaded” into joining the union. “I’m worried that it will upend and change an existing situation that I and many others value for what it is, as it is,” he said.
In the event, however, of the workers who voted on Thursday, a majority chose “yes.”
After the votes were counted on Thursday evening, the Guggenheim museum released the following statement:
On Thursday, June 27, 2019, a total of 77 employees, out of 141 employees who were eligible to vote, of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, participated in an election to decide whether certain employees wished to be represented by Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The employees involved work principally in installing our exhibitions and changing over the galleries from one exhibition to the next. They include full-time, regular part-time, and on-call employees such as art handlers, and exhibition construction workers, as well as certain facilities employees including maintenance mechanics, and engineers.
In the final tally, 57 employees voted in favor of union representation and 20 voted against.
The Guggenheim respects the right of employees to decide whether they wish to be represented by a union and encouraged all eligible employees to vote.
The Museum is committed to maintaining a fair, respectful, and positive work environment for all Guggenheim employees, whether or not they chose to be represented by a union. We recognize and appreciate the contributions of the talented staff who bring our mission to life every day.
Affiliating with IUOE Local 30 brings the Guggenheim workers collective bargaining power, but it does not insure gains on its own.
A reminder of this came earlier this week. New Museum employees, who voted in January to affiliate with Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, protested in front of the the institution as its summer exhibitions opened, demanding that management negotiate “in good faith” and complaining that during current negotiations union proposals around both benefits and pay had been declared “non-starters.”
“We ask management to treat us with the dignity and respect we deserve as workers by bargaining with us in good faith and accepting our union as a permanent—and beneficial—part of the Museum,” concluded an open letter signed by the majority of unionized workers at the New Museum, sent to director Lisa Phillips. “As our colleagues at museums and cultural institutions across the country form unions, we hope the New Museum will set a positive example of how institutions can work together with their unionized staff.”
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