Unionized members of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art on January 31 staged a protest outside a fundraising event at the museum. Workers greeted passersby and attendees of the Art Party, a $500-per-ticket gala, with flyers notifying readers that “the Museum is still rejecting proposals for higher wages despite historic inflation and the very high rates that they are hiring managers at.” The flyers warned that the increased wage disparities would hold down unionized worker’s salaries “for years to come.”
Employees of the Whitney voted 96 to 1 to unionize under the Local 2110 branch of the United Auto Workers union in August 2021. Though the museum announced even before the vote took place that it would recognize the union, workers say that the institution has dragged its feet on contract negotiations, which began several months later. At issue are including wages, health care and retirement benefits, and job security. As well, the union has said that Whitney officials floated the idea of setting wage increases without engaging in the bargaining process.
Union member Ramsay Kolber, a Whitney curatorial research associate participating in the demonstration, told Artnews that through the negotiations, the union had “tried to achieve better professional development, protection, and benefits for part-time staff.” Kolber noted that the museum had seen high turnover since the vote as negotiations stalled and described a workplace pervaded by low morale. “It’s hard to be bargaining for a year and feel like you’re not being told you matter,” she said. “Advocating for better representation in this field and better wages runs alongside the issues these institutions purport to support.”
The Whitney, through a spokesperson, acknowledged the plodding pace of negotiations, saying, “The Whitney respects and appreciates its employees and their right to organize and engage in work actions. The Museum continues to negotiate in good faith with UAW Local 2110 with the goal of finalizing a contract as soon as possible. While this process is taking longer than either side would like, we have made progress, and we look forward to a resolution.”