Brooklyn Museum Workers Move to Unionize

May 27, 2021

Employees at the Brooklyn Museum in New York have taken steps toward unionizing. On May 25, the Technical, Office and Professional Union Local 2110 of United Auto Workers (UAW) filed a petition with the US National Labor Relations Board seeking to represent some 130 full- and part-time workers at the institution. Included among their ranks are curators, conservators, educators, editors, fundraisers, front-desk staff, and retail workers.

The effort comes amid a wave of organization attempts by employees at other New York arts institutions, most recently those at the Whitney Museum of American Art and at the Hispanic Society of America, with both groups filing similar petitions earlier this month. Job precarity, particularly in relation to visitor service and retail positions, is presumed to have played a role: Like the Whitney, which responded to the fiscal crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic by shedding 20 percent of its staff during the past year, the Brooklyn Museum laid off twenty-six full-time and three part-time workers, putting others on short time or furlough. The cash-strapped organization additionally sought other routes out of financial misery, including deaccessioning and federal aid.

Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110, which additionally represents employees at New York institutions the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, and the New-York Historical Society, told The Art Newspaper that the petition includes workers classified by the museum as temporary. “We think they should be eligible,” she said. The next step for the proposed Brooklyn Museum bargaining unit is to post a notice of the petition on June 1, after which the museum has three days to challenge portions of the document.

“The Brooklyn Museum respects the rights of our employees to consider and evaluate union representation and is committed to a cooperative, fair and respectful process in order to achieve the best outcome for our staff,” said the institution in a statement. Some staff at the museum, including administrative assistants, custodians, and security guards, already have union representation, belonging to Local 1502, District Council 37, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“People see many advantages to having a more democratic voice in the institution,” Brooklyn Museum conservator Natalya Swanson, who is taking part in the organization effort, told The New York Times. “We recognize that we have the ability to advance the conditions for everyone in the workplace.”