The staff at the MFA has been working towards unionizing technical, office, and professional workers since the summer of 2019. In this current moment of uncertainty, there has never been a better time to organize in arts and cultural institutions.
Our unionization effort did not arise in a vacuum, and it did not come from outside influences. MFA staff—longtime employees and new employees from all departments—have driven this effort from the start, and will all continue to shape the union.
We believe a union will help ensure that the Museum’s HR and leadership policies are in line with the innovations in the galleries, including concrete goals around staff diversity, opportunities for advancement and raises, and support of staff with care responsibilities. The powerful ideas behind “Women Take the Floor” have to be enacted behind the scenes and in our work culture, too.
The process of forming a union has been a long one, and one that has been shaped by the power of colleagues coming together to raise issues and find solutions collectively. We have heard many express sadness that the union was not in place to protect us when this pandemic hit, or even before, in order to ensure basic needs like annual cost of living increases, livable compensation salary base levels, or even basic communication from the administration to furloughed staff and protection against unilateral decision-making concerning layoffs. We agree.
Unionizing is becoming increasingly common in our field. Thousands of workers at museums and art organizations have formed unions or are in the process of organizing with goals similar to those of the MFA Union. Just recently, the Philadelphia Museum of Art staff organized a union (see their website and Instagram), and other peer institutions like the Carnegie Museums and Milwaukee Art Museum are in process, like us. MoMA has had a union since 1970. The huge outpouring of support and positive press is inspiring, and bodes well for our own efforts. Across the country, unions are common among higher education professionals and in health care fields as well.
Members of the organizing committee (MFA Staff) interviewed multiple unions before deciding on Local 2110. Local 2110 represents thousands of technical, office, and professional workers throughout the area, including the professional and administrative staff of the MoMA, the New Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Columbia University, New York University, the ACLU, and many more. UAW has also organized extensively in the Boston area—including the Harvard graduate workers, the staff of Boston University, and Greater Boston Legal Services attorneys and staff.
The International UAW is one of the most powerful unions in the country and provides our local union with resources and expertise to assist us in legal issues, organizing, civil rights, legislative action, and health and safety work. As the union of choice for MoMA, Local 2110 offers a good example of a longstanding contract that the workers of the MFA can bargain for.
Currently, MFA management decides unilaterally on all our terms and conditions of employment, including:
- Compensation Levels
- Employment Status (permanent, term, hourly, etc.)
- Time Off
- Family Leave
- Furloughs and Layoffs
- Work Conditions
- Health and Safety
With a union, the Museum must bargain in good faith with us over all of these (and more) conditions of our employment, and cannot reduce our benefits without our union’s agreement. It is also important to know that management cannot reduce benefits to retaliate against us for unionizing or to force us to “bargain back” what we already have, or retaliate against individuals while they are organizing.
Bargaining is guided by the input of all the members of the bargaining unit (i.e. all of us!) from its inception until the contract is signed. Concerns and priorities voiced by the MFA staff will inform the demands and negotiation process. In the end, the contract must be ratified by a majority vote of the entire bargaining unit.
While specific input is still to be gathered, it is typical for union contracts to include protections like notice of layoff, severance pay, and the right to come back if jobs reopen. With a union, we would have the right to bargain over the terms of a furlough or layoff and we would be able to ask the MFA to disclose financial information. MFA staff have also informally voiced the following concerns or priorities: equity in the workplace, safety of the working environment, opportunity for advancement, affordable healthcare, transparency in scheduling policy, equitable hiring practices at all levels, fair compensation, support for work/life balance, and support for care responsibilities.
Labor justice and other forms of justice, including racial justice, are inherently linked. It will take our collective voices raised in unison to create a just workplace for all. We believe that a union can help achieve this in a way that is respectful, caring, and constructive, and can be a positive aspect of museum life.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states that all workers in a bargaining unit share a community of interest. We are proposing a large unit that is cross-departmental and includes most staff who aren’t already unionized or considered “managerial.” This includes both full-time, “term” positions, and part-time staff. Proposing a large unit like ours is common, and it will make our union stronger.
Who exactly is and isn’t union-eligible is a legal determination. But a good rule of thumb is: if you get a paycheck from the MFA and are not classified as a supervisor or confidential staff, you’re probably eligible.
The National Labor Relations Board makes the final determination of eligibility. Its list of eligible employees determine who will receive a ballot to vote in a union election and be included in the eventual union. Some staff positions may remain contested in terms of their eligibility through the election, and those workers will vote with provisional ballots.
Having the word “Manager” or “Supervisor” in your title is not enough to exclude you from the right to unionize. For example, those who oversee vendors, temps, volunteers, independent contractors or interns who are not in the unit, are not supervisors under federal labor law. If you have questions about whether you are eligible, be in touch.
Furloughed staff are expected to return to the Museum and are therefore eligible to vote. Staff that are permanently laid off are unlikely to be eligible to vote unless they are recalled to the Museum before a union election.
We’ve found strong support across departments. This is one of the most compelling aspects of our union—we are organizing across the MFA, which will give our union power.
NO. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against anyone for forming or joining a union. Hundreds of thousands of workers in every occupation, including non-profits and art museums, have formed, joined, and been active in their unions. Furthermore, with a union, employees have greater job protection because employers must affirmatively demonstrate that they have “just cause” before terminating an employee.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, it is illegal for our employer to:
- Question us about our union support or activities in a manner that discourages us from engaging in that activity.
- Fire, demote, or transfer us, or reduce our hours or change our shift, or otherwise take adverse action against us, or threaten to take any of these actions, because we join or support a union, or because we engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection, or because we choose not to engage in any such activity.
- Threaten to close our workplace if workers choose a union to represent them.
- Promise or grant promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to discourage or encourage union support.
On average, it can take between 6 months to a year. But for a first contract, the process of negotiating can become protracted. The likelihood of negotiating a good contract in a shorter amount of time will be increased if the members make it clear to management that a fair offer is necessary through their unified actions and articulated support for the negotiations.
There are no dues until after a first contract is negotiated and voted into effect by a majority of the members. After that, union dues are 2% of your regular (gross) wages (excluding overtime) deducted from your paycheck. If you are paid weekly, dues are deducted weekly, if you are paid bi-weekly, dues are deducted bi-weekly, etc. Union dues pay for the cost of maintaining and supporting a strong union, e.g., legal costs, staffing, equipment, supplies, rent, etc.
On average, it can take between 6 months to a year. But for a first contract, the process of negotiating can become protracted. The likelihood of negotiating a good contract in a shorter amount of time will be increased if the members make it clear to management that a fair offer is necessary through their unified actions and articulated support for the negotiations.The bargaining committee is democratically elected among eligible staff. The size and make-up of the bargaining committee is generally relative to the size of the entire unit. Local 2110 can provide guidance and models to follow, but in the end, deciding on the size and structure (at-large representation, etc) is up to us.
After the contract is ratified, we will elect a chairperson and delegates from among our unit to serve as stewards: they will ensure that management lives up to the provisions of the contract and offer support to all members with any problems that arise in the workplace. Disputes still happen, but ultimately the union will become a normal part of the workplace.
Once a supermajority of eligible MFA staff signed union support cards in early September, the organizing committee deliberated what day to file the petition. Our discussion included balancing a number of factors including the September 9th announcement of our reopening, the September 17th Town Hall meeting, and the Museum’s re-opening on September 23rd. In weighing the options of when to file, we felt that waiting an additional week until after the Town Hall would be unproductive, and in fact we may have ended up having to wait another week or two in order not to conflict with the re-opening.
It was incredibly disappointing that Leadership declined to present the results of the Compensation Study, as they promised to at the meeting scheduled in March, and once again this one scheduled September 17. Leadership decided to use the filing as an excuse to not share the information and to paint the unionization process in a bad light. They could still share information about the results of the study with us without providing any promises of pay increases, but they chose not to. And, lets not forget that these results are now a year old and aging daily!
Please be assured, once we have voted in a union, the first thing we will request are the complete results of the Compensation Study which, with a union, will be our right!
Email us at MFAunion@2110uaw.org to set up a time to talk with a MFA union organizer one-on-one.