Workers at the Hispanic Society Museum and Library in New York City’s Washington Heights neighbourhood have been on strike since late March. The strike began after a year of failed negotiations between the museum’s administration and unionised workers. According to the members of the union, who are represented by the local United Auto Workers (UAW) 2110, there has been no progress since early April.
“We’ve had no contact with them since the beginning of week two, when we had a nine-hour negotiating session,” says John O’Neill, a curator at the Hispanic Society and member of the bargaining committee. “That was at the start of week two. So essentially, things are where they are, where they were, and there’s been no no movement on their part.”
Despite the breakdown in negotiations, workers have maintained a picket line outside the museum, in addition to other actions. On 26 April, the union picketed outside the home of Philippe de Montebello, the chairman of the Hispanic Society’s Board and former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have also received the support of several elected officials, including New York City council members Members Carmen De La Rosa and Shaun Abreu. On 28 April, the Society for Iberian Global Art released an open letter addressing the current situation at the Hispanic Society and calling for a resolution.
The Hispanic Society houses one of the largest collections of Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese art and literature in the world. Its museum building has been closed for renovations since 2017. The museum was expected to reopen last month, but the strike and construction delays have pushed that reopening back indefinitely.
“The Hispanic Society—a beloved institution—has been closed long enough, failing its mission to engage with a large audience, starting with its local community,” a museum spokesperson said in a statement to The Art Newspaper. “In recent years, many efforts have been made to change what was perceived as an insular, unwelcoming attitude. However, it is fair to acknowledge that this new direction encountered some resistance from a few longtime staff members.”
Employees at the institution formed a union in 2021. The UAW Local 2110 also represents employees of museums and cultural institutions across the Northeast including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim Museum.
The Hispanic Society strike is now the longest strike in recent history in the US culture and heritage sector. Last autumn, workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art went on strike for 19 days, ultimately leading the workers and museum administrators to agree to a new contract.
Of the impasse at the Hispanic Society, UAW Local 2110’s director of organising Maida Rosenstein says that “unfortunately, there are some people in the cast of characters [there] who just seem very oblivious to what they have in the staff” she adds, “These are long-term professionals who made a weighty decision to organise because the board cut off their pension plan, and they felt they had to move forward. What is at stake here is people’s health benefits.”