Workers at the Whitney Move to Unionize
May 19, 2021
Employees at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York are petitioning to join the United Auto Workers union. Some 180 staff, including conservators, curators, educators, editors, porters, and visitor-services workers, on May 17 filed for representation by Local 2110 branch of UAW, which currently represents staff at the Museum of Modern Art, the New-York Historical Society, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, among other institutions. The news was originally reported in the New York Times.
“Many of us are looking for more job security within our roles at the Whitney,” Karissa Francis, a visitor services assistant at the museum, said in a statement. Like institutions across the world, the Whitney was forced to lay off employees in the past year owing to the continuing Covid-19 crisis, with roughly 20 percent of workers there losing their jobs.
In petitioning to unionize, staff at the Whitney are following in the footsteps of workers at New York’s New Museum and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, all of whom have successfully unionized in the past few years.
“The big picture to me is that these institutions have very wealthy corporate boards, they often have extremely high-paid leadership positions, yet the staff salaries have really lagged behind, so people even in full-time professional positions earn very little, and the Whitney is no exception,” Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein told The Art Newspaper. Rosenstein pointed to a desire among museum staff for “basic protections and basic economic security.”
The museum responded to news of the push for unionization with a statement noting that it “respects the staff’s desire to engage in a dialogue about collective bargaining and remains committed to supporting all staff, regardless of union affiliation.”
Also petitioning to join Local 2110 are workers at the Hispanic Society of America, New York, who filed for representation May 7.