Members of the Brooklyn Museum's union ratified their first contract by an overwhelming majority on Wednesday (8 November). News of a tentative agreement first came on social media over the weekend; two weeks ago, the union had announced a plan to go on strike beginning 8 November if a contract had not been reached at that time. However, in the hours leading up to the strike deadline, administrators at the Brooklyn Museum and union members were able to reach an agreement.
Maida Rosenstein, who was the chief negotiator and is also the director of organising at United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110—whose Brooklyn Museum local represents roughly 130 full-time and part-time workers across departments including conservation, education and visitor services—described the last few negotiation sessions with museum leadership as being “very intense”.
“This agreement will bolster salaries and invest in staff professional development,” says Lauren Bradley, an associate conservator who has worked at the museum for more than eight years. “This contract will lay a solid foundation for building long-term professional careers at the museum.”
The new contract includes a pay increase of over 23% over the course of its three-year lifespan, as well as a raise in minimum pay rates and guaranteed annual increases. This includes a pay raise to $22 an hour for front-of-house workers (retroactive to the beginning of 2023) and a $1 increase that is scheduled for each 1 January through 2025. Full- and part-time staffers in less public-facing roles will also see their pay increase on a percentage schedule—a 5% increase for 2023, a 4% increase in 2024 and a 3% increase in 2025. Additionally, full- and part-time staffers will be awarded ratification bonuses of $3,000 and $500, respectively.
“We’re extremely gratified that we were able to reach an agreement with the museum on the contract and able to avert a strike,” Rosenstein says. “The agreement is going to make a real difference in terms of boosting pay and giving people rights in the workplace that create a situation where employment at the Brooklyn Museum will be more sustainable for long-term careers. And it's been a long time, but we think it's a good contract and we're very excited about moving forward in the next step.”
The contract also reduces the employee share of healthcare premium costs, expands eligibility for healthcare benefits to part-time staff averaging 20 hours per week and establishes an annual $50,000 fund for for professional development. Other benefits of the new contract include the creation of a joint labour-management committee, a grievance procedure with binding arbitration, layoff protection and extra pay for workers who take on extra work when a position is unfilled.
“We’re so pleased to have reached an agreement with our UAW-represented staff,” a museum spokesperson tells The Art Newspaper. “We believe this agreement reflects the museum’s ongoing commitment to important wage equity investments across the organisation, and is the right decision for our staff and the economic sustainability of the museum.”
The Brooklyn Museum’s UAW Local 2110 union first organised in August of 2021. In the more than two years since, the union has held numerous actions in an effort to reach their first contract and call attention to their cause. In April, more than 100 union members picketed the Brooklyn Museum’s annual fundraising gala, handing out leaflets to partygoers and brandishing signs to bring attention to their negotiations. In autumn 2022, the union filed an unfair labour practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that museum leadership had engaged in unfair negotiation tactics.
In addition to Brooklyn Museum employees, UAW Local 2110 represents workers at many cultural institutions in the Northeast of the US, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Jewish Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Hispanic Society Museum and Library, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston and others.