Workers at the Brooklyn Museum have voted 68 to 3 to form a union and will be represented by Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers (UAW). The move follows successful organising efforts at a rapidly expanding number of US museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the New-York Historical Society, the New Museum and the Hispanic Society of America.
Maida Rosenstein, the president of Local 2110, says that around 125 full-time and part-time workers at the Brooklyn Museum will be represented, among them curators, conservators, educators, archivists, financial and development employees, the front-desk staff and gift shop workers. She says the votes were counted on 16 August after a monthlong mail-in balloting process. (Thirty-four people who were eligible to vote did not cast ballots.)
“We’re really happy” with the result, Rosenstein says. As the museum’s education efforts ramp up after being derailed by the pandemic, she expects that part-time on-call educators who were ineligible to vote will return, and boost the ranks of those represented.
The next step for the Local 2110 unit will be forming a bargaining committee that will meet with management to begin negotiating a contract after surveying employees on their biggest concerns. “We’d like to get started fairly soon, and this week we’ll meet to discuss a timeline,” the local’s president says.
Salary levels, equity in pay and job security are certain to be top priorities, Rosenstein adds. “There has also been a situation with visitor services and the store, with employees being cycled in and out, many of them part-time and without benefits,” she says.
In a statement after the vote tally, the Brooklyn Museum said, “Above all, we are committed to supporting our staff and have respected their right to organise. We remain committed to working with the union moving forward.”
Last year, after revenue plummeted amid a shutdown in response to the pandemic, the museum laid off over two dozen employees, deepening an awareness among many workers of their vulnerability. “Many employees felt there wasn’t enough accountability for decision-making, not enough clarity,” Rosenstein says.
She describes the Brooklyn Museum, known for a commitment to social justice in recent years, as a “phenomenal institution”. Still, salaries and staffing levels are low, she notes.
Local 2110, a union for technical, office and professional workers, represents workers at New York museums, educational institutions, civil liberties groups, law firms and other workplaces. Contracts negotiated with the local are in place at the Museum of Modern Art, the Children’s Museum of the Arts, the New Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Tenement Museum and the Shed. Workers at the Whitney and the Hispanic Society Museum and Library voted recently to align themselves with the union, and employees at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum have filed a request with the National Labor Relations Board to organise with Local 2110 as well.
Some security, operations, maintenance and clerical workers at the Brooklyn Museum are already represented by Local 1502, District Council 37, which is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.