As visitors to the Whitney Museum enjoyed the return of the annual fundraiser, the institution’s union workers gathered at the entrance to protest as they continued to negotiate the contract.
While Whitney Museum staff and their supporters waved placards and handed out flyers explaining why the contract was still in place after the unionization vote in August 2021, the contract still had not been finalized.
“Whitney Museum continues to reject offers of pay increases despite historical inflation and the very high rates at which they hire managers,” the leaflet reads. Negotiations between the Whitney union and museum management began in November 2021, after about 200 workers voted overwhelmingly to join UAW’s 2110 Local Technical, Office, and Trade Union, which also represents employees of the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum.
According to the union, talks have stalled on issues such as:
- health care;
- pension benefits;
- job security for full-time and part-time employees;
The union alleges that Whitney Museum management offered to determine the annual wage increase without negotiation. Ramsay Kolber, the museum’s research curator, said that during these negotiations they were trying to achieve better professional development, protection, and benefits for part-time employees. He also noted that another goal is to ensure that benefits do not change for those people who already have benefits or will receive them under the first contract.
The union has become a familiar presence at Whitney’s lavish events, appearing at the Whitney Biennale in March and at the museum’s studio art party.
Whitney Museum has recently celebrated its first art party, bringing together patrons, collectors, and artists to raise money for the museum after a two-year hiatus. The topic was astrology. Participants, some sporting sheep horns and fish scales, sneaked past the protesters through several museum entrances.
A spokesman for the Whitney Museum said that Whitney respects and values its employees and their right to organize and participate in work activities. Whitney Museum continues to negotiate in good faith with UAW Local 2110 with a view to awarding the contract as soon as possible. Although this process is taking longer than both parties would like, progress is still being made and workers are looking forward to a decision.
The union members said they are still arguing with museum management over the classification of numerous front-line positions in the visitor services department as temporary or part-time, which would make them ineligible for benefits.
The museum is also hiring temporary workers from an outside agency, Kolber said, which also makes it difficult for part-time employees to get more hours or benefits.