National Gallery employees and management reach working agreement

BOSTON (AP) — Employees of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts ratified their first contract on Tuesday, becoming the latest prestigious arts institution to protect workers with a union contract.

The collective agreement is the first since museum workers voted to join United Auto Workers Local 2110 in November 2020, the union and management said in a joint statement.

“We are pleased to have reached agreement on a union contract with the MFA that will provide a fairer pay structure and a democratic voice for staff,” union president Maida Rosenstein said in the statement. “By establishing collective bargaining rights, MFA staff are helping to bring about the systemic changes needed for museum workers in general.”

The union represents 227 of the museum’s administrative, technical, curatorial and curatorial employees.

The agreement increases wages and minimum wage rates. Workers will get at least a 5% raise on July 1, with some workers getting bigger increases. Salaries will be increased again by 3% on July 1, 2023, and again by 3% on July 1, 2024.

The Museum has estimated the total cost of salary changes at 13.5% over the three-year term of the contract.

New York-based UAW Local 2110 represents workers at dozens of cultural and educational institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, museums were forced to close and lay off workers, and many employees realized they had few legal protections, said sociology and labor studies professor Tom Juravich. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The National Gallery cut more than 100 jobs at the start of the pandemic, about half through voluntary early retirements and the other half through layoffs, according to a statement at the time.

Museums have treated their rank-and-file employees as mere servants for years, and more workers have joined unions as attitudes change among younger employees, in particular, Juravich said.

“There’s a new generation coming into the field, and they’re not impressed by the prestige of just working in the best cultural institutions in the world, they have to pay the bills,” he said, pointing out that many likely have advanced degrees and substantial student loans.

Juravich said it’s also hard to justify working for a living wage when museum management is well paid and many museum boards are made up of society’s wealthiest elite.

Unionized MFA workers staged a one-day strike last November to protest what they said was a deadlock in contract negotiations. The museum, which has around 500,000 works of art and attracts more than a million visitors a year, remained open during the strike.

The museum said that in addition to enhanced benefits for unionized workers, it is committed to investing more in compensation and benefits for all employees over the next three years.

“Our employees make MFA what it is; they ensure the utmost care of the treasures we hold in trust for future generations as we strive to be a museum for all of Boston,” said museum director Matthew Teitelbaum.

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