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Kirana Wanandi / Gavel Media

Museum Employees Unionize in Boston

On October 14th, unionized workers for the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) ended a 19-day strike after reaching a hesitant labor agreement. The agreement, which was ratified on the 16th of October, would increase salaries by 14% over 3 years, raise the minimum wage from $15 to $16.75, add four weeks of paid parental leave, and increase the museum’s contribution to health insurance plans from 90 to 95 percent. 

The 3-year contract comes after nearly 2 years of negotiation and multiple filings against museum management. In 2020, the New York Times reported that a young male manager had been accused of “mistreating” several young female employees. Following these incidents, the PMA employees unionized, and the young manager resigned from the PMA to begin his new job as head director of Ernie Art Museum--a position that would make him one of the youngest museum chiefs in the country. 

Further grievances were filed in 2022 when labor union bosses filed reports of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board. The reports cited multiple instances of “alleged malfeasance” on behalf of the PMA. These reports eventually led to a preliminary one-day strike in September 2022 and its nearly 3-week-long successor this October. 

Negotiations were finalized only one day before the opening of the museum's newest exhibit to ensure no labor shortages for the new addition. 

Labor organization is a growing movement, especially in museums and other cultural institutions. This past June, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA) faced a similar situation. After nearly 2 years of negotiations, unionized workers ratified their first contract with United Auto Workers 2110. The agreement ensures a 13.5% salary raise over the next 3 years and increased retirement and transportation benefits. Management also agreed to implement a new workplace diversity training program, a labor-management committee, and a formalized grievance procedure. The agreement also ended the use of different salary scales that designated higher salaries to finance and development staff instead of traditional museum and librarian positions.  

Unionizing efforts at the museum began in 2019 but the official union was formed the following year after a 133 to 14 vote. The agreement was finally reached after Mayor Michelle Wu “reached out to the parties” herself, ending the preceding 14 months of negotiations. Wu’s motivation for stepping in comes from the MFA’s single-day warning strike and her fears that such actions at one of Boston’s “premier institutions would be bad for the city.” 

Following suit of the employees of large corporations like Starbucks and Amazon, museum workers across the country are joining the recent surge in unionization efforts. Some museums, like the New York New Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, began unionization efforts as early as 2019. These movements became the archetype for later advancements in museums like The Whitney and The Art Institute of Chicago, both of whose organization attempts began within the past year or so. Boston's MFA, and its recent labor movement, is a crucial step in a nationwide trend toward worker's rights. 

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