After more than a year of negotiations, unionised workers at the Whitney Museum of American art and the museum’s administration announced on Monday (6 March) that the union had ratified its first contract. The union, a part of Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers (UAW), represents close to 200 workers at the Whitney. The new contract, which includes many provisions the union had sought, is valid through 30 June 2026.
Hard-won features of the contract for the union include minimum pay increases and general wage increases for unionised employees across the board. This includes a new minimum pay grade or a 5% increase, whichever is greater. This will result in an average pay increase of 15%; with the new contract, staff members who made the minimum hourly rate of $17 will now be paid $22, retroactive to 1 January 2023. By the end of June 2025, these workers will earn $24 per hour. Following the contract’s ratification, museum workers will receive a one-time, $1,000 bonus.
The contract also extends many of the benefits won for members to temporary workers, specifying that the latter will be paid the same minimum hourly rate that regular staff receive, as well as paid holidays and preferential positioning for permanent jobs as they become available.
“We’re thrilled to have reached an agreement with the museum, and see this as an important win for the field as a whole in that it lays the foundation for more sustainable and equitable employment for museum workers now and in the future,” Ramsay Kobler, a curatorial research associate at the Whitney and member of the union bargaining committee, tells The Art Newspaper.
“The Whitney Museum of American Art is pleased to reach an agreement with UAW Local 2110,” a spokesperson for the museum says. “After negotiating in good faith for many months, we have finalized a contract that serves the best interests of our staff. We look forward to a longstanding and productive working relationship with 2110.”
Since the union’s formation, negotiations have been ongoing and have stalled at various points. This led the union to organise several rallies and actions, including leafleting during the Whitney's Art Party earlier this year, during last year's benefit gala and during the VIP preview of the 2022 Whitney Biennial.
Following the wave of layoffs and furloughs in the museum sector at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic (including at the Whitney), and amid widening gaps in pay and job security (among other issues) in the sector, many cultural workers at institutions across the US have taken steps to form unions and collectively bargain for better working conditions.
Workers at the Whitney petitioned to form a union as part of UAW Local 2110 in May of 2021, and the following month the museum voluntarily recognised the union. The same union also represents workers at numerous cultural institutions across the northeastern United States including the Museum of Modern Art, Mass Moca, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Brooklyn Museum.