Guggenheim Museum staff ratifies union contract

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Guggenheim Museum staff ratifies union contract
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, May 12, 2009. The Guggenheim Museum announced Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, that it had reached an agreement with its workers’ union after more than two years of bargaining and that nearly 150 curators, conservators and other employees connected with Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers had ratified their first contract. (Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)

by Zachary Small

NEW YORK, NY.- The Guggenheim Museum announced Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with its workers’ union after more than two years of bargaining and that nearly 150 curators, conservators and other employees connected with Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers had ratified their first contract.

The contract goes into effect immediately, providing an average salary increase of 11% over the lifetime of the 2 1/2-year contract, which will run through Dec. 31, 2025. The contract delivers improved health and retirement benefits and includes a grievance procedure with arbitration and a requirement that managers have just cause to fire an employee.

The museum said in a statement by its communications director, Sara Fox, that it was “pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement.”

Demands for unionization coincided with some of the greatest challenges that Guggenheim leaders had faced in the museum’s eight decades. Staff members organized in 2021 during the pandemic, when employees felt great uncertainty over layoffs. The organization was also undergoing a moment of deep reflection after a reckoning on race led its chief curator, Nancy Spector, to leave her job.

Two years earlier, art handlers and maintenance workers had voted to join Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. The museum director at that time, Richard Armstrong, emailed employees saying that he believed a union would inject divisiveness “on a daily basis” into the institution. (Armstrong retired this year, and a new director has not been named.)

“It feels great to have a contract that’s the culmination of all of our organizing efforts,” Julie 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.”

The Guggenheim said that while there had been other wage increases, they had not been locked in for years at a time.

Maida Rosenstein, director of organizing for Local 2110, said in an interview that terms of the contract were roughly equivalent to those in others the union had struck with institutions such as the Whitney Museum and the New Museum. But the contract covers a period that is noticeably shorter than those in other agreements — half of the standard five-year term.

“For a first contract, a shorter contract is better because it serves as a foundation for us to build upon in future negotiations,” Alan Seise, a public programs manager and member of the bargaining committee, said in a phone interview. “The Guggenheim is in a moment of change, and I think the unionization effort is part of that.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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