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New Museum staffers, who voted to join Local 2110 in January, demonstrating outside the museum on Tuesday, June 25.

New Museum Union Pushes for Contract at Exhibition Opening Protest

As the New Museum celebrated the opening of its summer exhibitions of work by Mika Rottenberg, Marta Minujín, and Lubaina Himid on Tuesday evening, some two hundred to three hundred members and supporters of the institution’s newly formed union gathered outside to demand a contract as negotiations between UAW (United Auto Workers) Local 2110 and museum management continue. Participants—many members of other unions, including those from the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and UAW’s graduate student organizing committee—chanted slogans including “What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!” and “What’s Disgusting? Union Busting!”

The demonstration was organized after more than seventy union members signed a letter to director Lisa Phillips last week, which read: “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.” The signatories asked Phillips to meet the union’s demands, which include raising entry-level salaries and offering better health care.

In response to the letter, a representative of the New Museum said: “In late March we began productive regular bargaining sessions with the union, though only recently received their wage and benefit proposals. We are giving this the attention it deserves and look forward to a positive resolution and first contract with the union.”  

Workers at the New Museum voted in favor of forming a union in January. Prior to the vote, employees told Artforum that the institution’s management attempted to dissuade them from organizing. The institution then hired the union-busting consultancy firm Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan. Staffers decided to join Local 2110 in order to improve working conditions and to make the museum into a “more sustainable and equitable institution.”

The staff’s move to unionize may have sparked a wave of other labor movements throughout the city. In the months following the New Museum workers’ efforts to join a union, several other institutions have followed suit. Employees at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are pushing to unionize, and staff at BAM and the New York Tenement Museum voted to unionize earlier this year.

Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, said to yesterday’s crowd at the end of the evening: “We’re going to change the landscape and change the city because New York is a union town.”

Organizers demonstrating outside the New Museum on Tuesday, June 25.

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