Workers at the Whitney Museum in New York voted to Join Union

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Winding up a brief campaign begun in May, employees of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art on August 2 voted 96–1 to join the Local 2110 branch of the United Auto Workers union (UAW), Artnews reports. The push to unionize came after the Whitney, like other arts institutions around the world, was forced to lay off employees owing to the continuing Covid-19 crisis, reducing staff by roughly 20 percent over the span of a year. Seventy-six employees, most in visitor-services positions, lost their jobs in April 2020 and another fifteen fell under the axe this past February, as the museum sought to address a $23 million budget shortfall.

More than 180 staff, including conservators, curators, educators, editors, porters, and visitor-services workers, filed for representation on May 17. “Many of us are looking for more job security within our roles at the Whitney,” said Karissa Francis, a visitor services assistant at the museum, in a statement at the time.

Unlike the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum farther uptown, which has dragged its feet in response to worker efforts to unionize, the Whitney was quick to voluntarily recognize the budding union, issuing a statement to that effect on June 1, just weeks after the union’s forming, noting “We respect the desire of our colleagues to engage in a dialogue about collective bargaining, as is their legal right, and we remain committed to supporting all staff, regardless of affiliation.”

The Whitney’s unionization follows successful efforts in recent years by New York’s New Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Just yesterday, staff at the Guggenheim petitioned to join Local 2110, which currently represents employees at the Museum of Modern Art and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, as well as those at the Whitney.

“We welcome the opportunity to develop a constructive working relationship with Local 2110, as we have done with the other unions already in place at the Whitney, and will work in good faith with Local 2110 throughout the collective bargaining process,” said the museum in a statement.

The Whitney union was exuberant over its win. “We are looking forward to sitting down with Whitney Museum leadership to start the bargaining process,” the group enthused on Instagram. “Celebrations ahead!”

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