• The Star Staff

Guggenheim Museum reaches agreement with new union


By Zachary Small


After nearly 18 months of negotiations, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has signed an agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30 that will provide new benefits to some of the cultural institution’s workers.


The three-year collective bargaining agreement covers 22 full-time employees and 145 on-call staffers who make up the museum’s facilities, maintenance and art handling crews.


Under the terms of the agreement, salaries will increase by approximately 10% over the life of the contract; employees will not have to contribute to health insurance premiums; and scheduling practices and safety procedures will be improved, according to the museum.


Union officials declined to release the exact terms of the contract, citing concerns for the privacy of their workers.


“We are pleased to have reached a contract agreement,” Richard Armstrong, the Guggenheim’s director, said in a statement. “I am grateful to our skilled colleagues who are members of IUOE Local 30 for their contributions towards fulfilling the museum’s mission. I look forward to an ongoing productive relationship with these talented employees and their union representatives.”


William Lynn, a Local 30 vice president, added that the agreement would provide employees with “a real voice in the workplace and protect them from unfair discipline.”


“Our collective struggle to unionize led to negotiating a historic contract that raises working conditions,” Lynn added. “With the Guggenheim, we will continue to improve standards together.”


In 2019, some Guggenheim workers voted to unionize in what marked the beginning of a revitalized labor movement in the art world. This unit of the Operating Engineers is the first union local to represent workers at the museum.


In recent years, employees have organized at other major institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Negotiations between museums and their workers have frequently become confrontational. When the Guggenheim reopened its doors in September following its temporary shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, employees protested at its front doors by blaring Led Zeppelin and parking a truck equipped with digital screens that flashed messages about stalled contract talks along with photos of museum officials.


“Throughout negotiations, it was clear that management understood the level of work we produce in support of world-class exhibitions, but that they had no intention of compensating us fairly,” Bryan Cook, a union member and part-time staff member who helps to construct Guggenheim exhibits, said in an email. “We have never received what we deserve, but we all deserve this contract.”

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