Workers at the Hispanic Society Museum & Library voted on Friday (19 May) to ratify their first contract, ending one of New York’s longest museum strikes in recent years. Workers at the Washington Heights institution, who had been on strike for eight weeks, were back to to work as usual on Monday.
John O’Neill, a curator at the Hispanic Society and member of the bargaining committee, describes the mood today as “upbeat”, adding, “It’s been just camaraderie amongst the staff––at least amongst the union staff. And that always leads to good work environments. So we’re very happy to be back.”
The strike began on 27 March and is among the longest in the cultural heritage sector in the US in the last five years. It garnered support from New York City Council members as well as the Society for Iberian Global Art, which released an open letter calling for an end to the strike late last month. Union members and the Hispanic Society’s leadership had not had a negotiation session for over a month before last Monday (15 May), when a deal was finally hammered out during an eight-hour bargaining session.
The strike “showed [the institution’s leaders] a solidarity among the union members, and it showed them that commitment that we stood out in the rain, we stood out in the blazing sun”, O’Neill says. “We all were losing money on our salaries. I do not believe that they were expecting the level of solidarity among the workforce.”
One of the main sticking points in negotiations had to do with healthcare: prior to the contract that was ratified on Friday, the museum leaders’ offers had included wage increases but had been unwilling to budge on workers’ demands regarding medical coverage. “We got practically everything we asked for,” O'Neill says. “We got salary minimums for starters, which we never had so we're happy about that, and we had our medical benefits continued.”
The new contract gives workers an 18% increase in pay, as well as creation of a new 403(b) retirement plan and fully paid health benefits. The contract also includes severance pay and professional development funds of up to $500 per year per worker, among other features. In terms of healthcare coverage, current employees will retain all existing benefits and are completely covered. Employees hired after 1 May, depending on their pay grade, will have all or most of their benefits covered—100% of their deductible and between 85% and 100% of their premium, depending on salary.
“We’re very pleased that we were able to settle the contract. We look forward to establishing better relations with the Hispanic Society,” says Maida Rosenstein, the director of organising at United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110, which has represented the workers since 2021. “We hope that we'll be able to use this next period to really move forward and enhance the quality of communication between management and workers.” She adds that a UAW strike fund helped provide payment to striking Hispanic Society workers, who were also able to file for unemployment benefits after two weeks.
The strike began just as the Hispanic Society was planning to reopen its museum in early April following a six-year closure for renovations. A spokesperson for the institution did not respond to a request for comment or share a new timeline for the museum’s reopening.