A Triumph of Unity: The Guggenheim Museum’s Historic Bargain with its Unionized Workforce

141 views 3:28 pm 0 Comments August 10, 2023
the guggenheim museums

tempartspace.com. The venerable Guggenheim Museum marked a new chapter in its storied history on Tuesday with the landmark announcement of a labor agreement with its workers’ union. A contentious and protracted negotiation, stretching over two years, culminated in a ratified contract that is set to benefit nearly 150 curators, conservators, and related employees affiliated with Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers.

This new accord, effective forthwith, will usher in an average salary elevation of 11% across the 2 1/2-year contract, ending on December 31, 2025. More than a mere financial commitment, this contract signifies an enhanced pact between employer and employee, underlining improved health and retirement benefits, a structured grievance process featuring arbitration, and the enshrinement of just cause in termination proceedings.

According to the museum’s communications director, Sara Fox, the institution is more than satisfied with the agreement’s culmination. Her statement epitomized the positive tone: “pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement.”

This watershed moment was not simply an isolated event but rather part of a broader context of uncertainty and transformation at the Guggenheim. During the throes of the pandemic in 2021, with the specter of layoffs looming large, employees united to push for unionization. Concurrently, internal re-evaluations on matters of race prompted significant organizational changes.

In fact, the labor movement had earlier roots at the museum. Two years prior, art handlers and maintenance staff had affiliated with Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. At the time, the then-museum director, Richard Armstrong, expressed concern that unionization might foster divisiveness, an apprehension that has since been dispelled with his retirement and the dawn of a new era at the institution.

For Julie Smitka, an associate producer at the museum, this agreement is a “transformative” moment, one that transcends mere financial gain to enshrine legally enforceable rights in the workplace.

In terms of precedent, the Guggenheim’s contract is on par with those made with other renowned institutions, but with a notably shorter duration. Maida Rosenstein, director of organizing for Local 2110, remarked on this uniqueness, and Alan Seise, a bargaining committee member, further elucidated the choice for a shorter contract. He explained that this foundational agreement allows flexibility for future negotiations during a time of change at the museum.

In conclusion, the Guggenheim Museum’s landmark agreement with its unionized workforce represents more than mere numbers and legal stipulations. It stands as a symbol of unity, mutual respect, and positive transformation within an institution that continues to evolve. The collective efforts of the past years have borne fruit, heralding a new era of labor relations within the museum, reflecting the broader currents of change and self-examination in our society.


Artdaily & New York Times