Take It or Leave It: The Brooklyn Museum Makes Its Final Contract Offer to Union Employees—and They’re Not Happy About It

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Nearly two years since workers at the Brooklyn Museum voted to unionize and began to negotiate a new contract, management has made its “final offer.” Staffers say it’s not good.

On Wednesday, the museum offered the workers a minimum increase of five percent for the remainder of 2023, and then three percent more each year through 2027, plus bonuses. It is giving the bargaining unit a June 30 deadline to approve the contract.

But the union says the proposal falls far short of meeting its demands.

“The union negotiating committee is not going to recommend the offer to the membership,” Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110 of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union, told Artnet News. “It locks us into a long contract with much lower increases in the subsequent years. It leaves out part-time museum educators that the museum relies upon to carry out all of their community and school programs, and offers them the lowest increases.”

The issue is all the more pressing because members of the bargaining unit say they have not received raises since July 2021. Museum leadership, on the other hand, gave themselves raises in July 2022, as part of the introduction of a new salary grading system.

 

“Yesterday was one of those ‘gotta get it all done days’ in the office, and it was extra challenging emotionally given the Brooklyn Museum’s very late and distressing ‘final offer,’” wrote curator Carmen Hermo in an Instagram story.

The union, which has about 130 members, had asked for an across-the-board wage increase of 16.25 percent over the next three-and-a-half-years.

The museum said its new compensation scheme would give certain workers raises well above that amount. “[S]ome employees would receive a higher than five percent (up to over 25 percent) increase depending on their salary grade,” a museum spokesperson told Artnet News in an email. “The part-time educators have a wide range of hourly rates.”

“It’s true that they’re putting in place a new grade system with higher minimum rates that will result in some additional increases for certain members of the unit, but for one, they’re long overdue,” Rothstein countered. “And if you raise somebody who is earning $47,000 to $56,000 year, that’s a significant percentage, but it’s still a low rate of pay for a full-time professional.”

Management positions are grades A through D, while members of the bargaining unit are grades E through J. The union said the museum proposed salary minimums for grade E through J workers that range from $56,000 to $98,000. The museum claimed the figures were higher than that, but declined to disclose the salaries assigned to any of the grades.

“The museum has been strongly committed to raising wages across the board and creating more equity and transparency of salaries. We have raised salaries for all levels, particularly for positions that have traditionally been the lowest paid in the field,” the museum spokesperson said. “For fiscal year 2023, our salaries and benefits represent two-thirds of our operating budget, and the industry standard for museums of our size is 50 percent, according to the AAMD 2022 Salary Survey.”

The bargaining committee at the Brooklyn Museum says the institution’s current offer isn’t competitive with the recent agreements reached by their recently unionized peers. The Hispanic Society raised salaries more than 18 percent in May after staff went on strike, while in March the Whitney Museum raised salaries 15 percent, plus an additional 9.5 percent each year through 2026.

“The salaries of the Brooklyn Museum have lagged behind everybody for years, even in the low-paid museum industry,” Rosenstein said, claiming that that will continue under the current contract offer due to the low 3 percent increases over the span of the contract’s subsequent years, from 2024 to ’27.

The Whitney’s salary minimums for unionized staff, at $52,000 to $100,000, are not far off from what the Brooklyn Museum was said to offer, according to Rosenstein, who noted, however, that the Whitney union includes more entry-level employees.

The Brooklyn Museum union had initially called for the new contract’s raises to be retroactive to July 2022, when the rest of the museum’s staff saw salary bumps. As a compromise, it suggested one-time bonuses of $4,000 for full timers and $2,000 for part timers. The current offer is less than half of that, with $2,000 for full time and $500 for part time.

“The museum is threatening to take the bonus off the table if we don’t accept the contract by the deadline,” Rosenstein said. “They have taken a very anti-union approach. They weaponized the final offer, attempting to force workers into an agreement rather than coming to the table and bargaining.”

Staff ⁦⁦@bkmuseumunion⁩ are picketing for a fair union contract ⁦⁦@brooklynmuseum⁩ annual #artistsball@BAM_union⁩ ⁦@BFSUnion⁩ ⁦⁩ ⁦@MoMA_Local2110⁩ ⁦@GMU_2110⁩ ⁦@UAW⁩ ⁦@CentralLaborNYC⁩ ⁦@AFLCIOpic.twitter.com/Sup18sWg5f

— @2110UAW (@Local2110UAW) April 26, 2023

The Brooklyn Museum’s conservators, curators, events organizers, educators, and front-of-house workers first organized in August 2021. (The institution’s security, operations, maintenance, and administrative staff are separately part of AFSCME District Council 37 Local 1502.)

The Brooklyn museum argues that “financial issues are driving the offer,” Rosenstein said. “But they are not really bargaining in good faith.”

She cited as examples the museum’s initial insistence on Zoom negotiations—despite requiring staff to report on-site for work—as well as disputes over some 15 employees the museum has classified as management but the union believes should be part of the bargaining unit. (The union has also filed numerous claims against the museum with the National Labor Relations Board, one of which is currently pending trial.)

Solidarity with @bkmuseumunion! pic.twitter.com/iV6SACEBSZ

— patrick tyrrell (@patrickctyrrell) April 25, 2023

As negotiations with leadership have dragged on, union workers have twice taken to demonstrating outside the museum during high-profile events, targeting the gala opening for the blockbuster exhibition featuring fashion designer Thierry Mugler last fall, as well as the Brooklyn Artists Ball in April. The latter event reportedly raised $2.8 million in funds for the institution.

“The whole bargaining process has been very frustrating. The museum likes to cloak themselves in social justice, but I think they really don’t like unions,” Rosenstein said. “The people who are in the unit love the museum and they want to stay. They feel what they’re doing is really important, but they feel so disrespected.”

 

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