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The New Museum in New York.
The New Museum in New York.

New Museum Staffers Move to Unionize

As part of a campaign to improve working conditions at the New Museum in New York, the institution’s staff is preparing to unionize. A petition has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, and if approved, a vote will be scheduled in the coming weeks. If successful, the employees will be a part of NewMuU-UAW Local 2110, joining a growing list of cultural workers who are union members—including the staffs of the Museum of Modern Art and the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

A release circulated by union organizers earlier today reads: “Forming a union will enable us, as well as future New Museum employees, to effectively advocate for changes in staff conditions that will make the New Museum a stronger and more sustainable institution. We believe in the New Museum and its mission; we want it to succeed. But we also recognize a need for critical changes at this moment in the museum’s growth.”

The document also claims that the employees were motivated to unionize after reading a text by the museum’s founding director, Marcia Tucker, who in 1990 wrote that the institution needed to work toward “a collaborative,” “self-critical,” and “transparent” organizational model. “As the New Museum Union, we ask, above all, that these ideals be mirrored in the museum’s working conditions, hiring practices, wages, and benefits. We believe that fair compensation and transparency for all workers throughout the museum is essential to ensuring its diversity, reducing turnover, and strengthening the New Museum community: salaries, wages, and benefits at the museum must be sustainable for everyone, regardless of the privileges afforded them by race, class, or gender.”

The employees’ efforts to unionize were originally considered an internal matter; however, the museum’s response prompted the staff members to make the process public. The release states that the New Museum hired consulting firm Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan and has conducted a “harsh anti-union campaign” since learning of the staff’s intentions. It concludes by saying that the museum’s alleged actions gave the staff no choice but to “publicly combat the outright propaganda and disinformation being disseminated by the [firm].”

Local 2110 UAW president Maida Rosenstein called the institution’s decision to hire an anti-union firm “regrettable.” “They are hiring a firm that blatantly exists for the purpose of fighting unions,” she told Lauren Cavalli of Artforum. “It is so out of character for a contemporary art museum with progressive and cutting-edge views in the heart of New York City.”

In response, the museum provided Artforum with the following statement: “The New Museum was founded as a flexible and experimental space for cutting edge artists and thinkers to express their views, including on the changing nature of museums. This mission has served as a bedrock tenet for the New Museum and guides our ongoing program every day. Our employees make this work possible, and we hold them in the highest regard.”

“A group of employees recently petitioned to form a bargaining unit. We want them to make a fully informed decision. In the meantime, we look forward to working with our staff to serve our audience and community.”