Staff at the New Museum may have successfully formed a union in January, but six months later, administrators at the downtown institution have resisted contract negotiations. On Tuesday night, employees rallied outside the museum, giving buttons and leaflets to visitors who came to see the new exhibitions on Lubaina Himid, Mika Rottenberg, and others.
Dana Kopel, a member of the union, tells Hyperallergic that the crowd outside the museum swelled to nearly 300 people altogether. ARTnews reports that around 50 workers attended the demonstration, chanting “Work power, every minute every hour! Union strong!” and “What do we want? Contracts! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” Social media videos from the rally show taxis, buses, and trucks driving along the Bowery honking in support of the staffers.
“In general, we were overwhelmed by the support from both passersby and visitors,” Kopel told Hyperallergic over email. “Thus far, management has resisted and disparaged most of our contract proposals, but we’re hoping that last night’s massive show of support will put some pressure on them to take our needs and demands more seriously.”
Union members say that, above all else, they want a contract that would bring everyone in the union up to a living wage. The workers also want access to health insurance for everyone at the museum, including art handlers and front-facing staff in visitor services who do not have it. Additionally, they would like to address health and safety issues within the institution, which the union says remains a problem at the museum.
Staff members at the New Museum were joined in solidarity with other organizations throughout the city, including the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and unions from Barnard College and Columbia University.
The flyers handed out to visitors also detailed the income inequality between the lowest and highest ranks at the New Museum. The union writes that visitor services and retail employees make $15.50 an hour and many haven’t received a raise in nearly three years. Executive salaries at the institution, however, have grown roughly 20 percent each year between 2015 and 2017. (Public records show that museum director Lisa Phillips saw her salary rise from $597,500 in 2015 to $727,450 in 2017 — the last federal disclosure form on file. That would be closer to a 22 percent pay increase.)
Previously, Hyperallergic reported that the New Museum was working with Kentucky-based consulting firm Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan, which advertises its “union avoidance” services, to head what the organizers call “a harsh union-busting campaign.” According to a later report by ARTnews, the museum concluded its relationship with the firm.
“We value and respect our staff tremendously and will continue to work together, as we always have, to advance the Museum’s mission,” a statement from the New Museum delivered on Wednesday morning reads. “In late March we began productive regular bargaining sessions with the union, though only recently received their wage and benefit proposals. We are giving this the attention it deserves and look forward to a positive resolution and first contract with the union.”