Following more than a year of negotiations, on 12 October staff at the Jewish Museum in New York City announced they had ratified their first contract with an overwhelming majority voting in favour.
Staff at the museum first announced their intention to unionise in early 2022, with a nearly unanimous vote to form a union held in May of that year. The museum’s bargaining unit consists of 90 people, a mix of full- and part-time workers spanning multiple departments including curatorial, retail, visitor services, art handling and more.
The ratified contract is retroactive from 1 October, and will run through 30 June 2026. Key sticking points during negotiations with museum administrators that the union was able to push through in this contract related to increased wages, job security, childcare, leave and more.
“Together we’ve put powerful protections in place for our most vulnerable workers and taken important steps to secure better futures for museum workers across departments,” says Rebecca Shaykin, an associate curator and union member who has worked at the museum for more than a decade. “As a working parent, I'm especially proud of the significant improvements to our paid family leave policy we fought for and won. It's been an honour to be part of this process and, honestly, quite emotional to see our hard work yield immediate results for such a dedicated staff.”
Under the terms of the new contract, museum staff will see a wage increase of 17.5% over the next three years. All employees will receive a new minimum for their title, or a 3% increase in their wages, whichever is greater. The 1 October increase is in addition to a 3% increase distributed on 1 July of this year, and will be calculated based on employees’ current salaries. There will be additional 3% increases on 1 July 2024 and the following year.
Employees in the union “feel that it really sets the stage for building in the future and having a union where people can make work for them”, says Maida Rosenstein, the director of organising at United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110, which represents the workers. “We are also looking forward to future contracts and building on that at the Jewish Museum.”
Union members will receive a ratification bonus that works out to be .5% of their salary and will be distributed within three weeks of ratification. There will also be pay raises for art handlers and educators, whose compensation will rise by 20% and 14%, respectively. The new contract also ensures the creation of a labour management committee and a binding grievance procedure, and provides paid time off for union stewards. (A breakdown of the contract’s key points can be found here.)
“We feel the three-year contract reflects the shared desire between both parties to reach an agreement that is fair to the museum’s staff while also being economically sustainable for the organisation," Darsie Alexander, the acting director and chief curator at the museum, said in a statement emailed to The Art Newspaper. "We look forward to collaborating with our entire staff and Local 2110 in fostering a vital and productive work environment at the Jewish Museum.”
UAW Local 2110, of which the Jewish Museum union is part, represents many museums across the Northeast region of the US, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, Mass Moca and other institutions. Workers at many of those museums have ratified their first contracts after unionising—a process that can often take two years of negotiation.