Guggenheim Museum Staff Ratifies Union Contract

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Guggenheim Museum Reaches First Contract Agreement With Union After Two Years of Negotiations

The Guggenheim Museum has reached a historic agreement with its workers’ union, Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, after more than two years of negotiations. The contract, which goes into effect immediately, will provide nearly 150 curators, conservators, and other employees with an average salary increase of 11 percent over the next two and a half years. This landmark agreement marks the first time the Guggenheim has recognized a union for its curatorial and conservation staff, representing a significant shift in the power dynamics within the institution.

Key Takeaways:

  • A Historic Agreement: The Guggenheim Museum’s first contract with the union, Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, will provide its curatorial and conservation staff with a significant pay raise, improved benefits, and workplace protections.
  • Significant Salary Increase: The agreement delivers an average salary increase of 11 percent over the lifetime of the two-and-a-half-year contract, running through December 31, 2025. This exceeds the historical wage increases offered by the museum.
  • Enhanced Benefits: The contract also includes improved health and retirement benefits, solidifying financial security and well-being for the employees.
  • Strengthened Workplace Protections: The contract introduces a grievance procedure with arbitration and mandates that managers have just cause to fire an employee, offering greater job security and a fairer workplace environment.
  • A Moment of Change: The unionization effort at the Guggenheim, along with the institution’s recent internal reflection on issues like race and diversity, signifies a period of significant change for the iconic museum.

The path to this agreement has been long and arduous, highlighting the ongoing struggle for fair treatment and representation in the art world. In 2021, during the height of the pandemic, employees at the Guggenheim began organizing in response to uncertainty over layoffs and growing concerns regarding workplace conditions. This period of uncertainty was amplified by the museum’s internal reckoning with issues of race and diversity, culminating in the departure of Chief Curator Nancy Spector.

“It feels great to have a contract that’s the culmination of all of our organizing efforts,” said Julie K. Smitka, an associate producer at the museum in a statement. “It’s transformative for our workplace. Not only are there increases that exceed what the Guggenheim historically granted, but we now have rights at work that are legally enforceable.”

The unionization movement at the Guggenheim followed a similar trend among other major cultural institutions in recent years. In 2021, art handlers and maintenance workers at the Guggenheim voted to join Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, sparking a new era of employee representation within the museum. However, the unionization campaign for curatorial and conservation staff faced resistance from then-director Richard Armstrong, who expressed concerns about the potential for divisiveness.

The new contract with Local 2110 marks a significant step forward in addressing the long-standing concerns of employees at the Guggenheim. While the two-and-a-half-year duration of the contract is considerably shorter than the five-year terms often negotiated by other institutions, it represents a strong foundation for future negotiations and a commitment to continued collaboration between the museum and its workforce.

“For a first contract, a shorter contract is better because it serves as a foundation for us to build upon in future negotiations,” said Alan Seise, a public programs manager and member of the bargaining committee, in a phone interview. “The Guggenheim is in a moment of change, and I think the unionization effort is part of that.”

The Guggenheim’s agreement with its union signifies not only a victory for its employees but also a crucial step towards a more equitable and representative cultural landscape. By recognizing the collective voice of its curatorial and conservation staff and addressing their concerns through a formal contract, the museum demonstrates a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue and invest in the well-being of its workforce. This newfound collaboration holds the potential to foster a more secure and empowering environment, ultimately enriching the intellectual and artistic contributions of the employees who are at the heart of the institution’s mission.

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Megan Roberts
Megan Roberts
Megan Roberts is a career development specialist and writer. She offers valuable insights and advice on job searching, career progression, and professional skills. Megan's articles are aimed at helping individuals navigate the job market and achieve their career goals.