Workers at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Canada went on strike on Tuesday over claims that the museum’s wage policies are unfair. According to members of the union CUPE Local 15, tension between workers and the Vancouver Art Gallery has been mounting since a previous contract expired in June 2017, with attempts at negotiation mired in institutional politics.
Grant Arnold, a curator of British Columbia art at the museum, told ARTnews, “The frustration that precipitated the strike has been building for quite some time. The gallery’s employees are very dedicated to their work—it’s been almost 40 years since they last went on strike.”
Reached by ARTnews on Wednesday, Johanie Marcoux, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Art Gallery, said, “The Gallery very much values its unionized employees and appreciates all their contributions.” She said that “there has been no roll-back of benefits for its current team members and, in fact in many cases, benefits have been enhanced.”
The union has taken issue with two of the museum’s policies: a system accounting for wage increases and a nine-day fortnight plan. (The latter policy stipulates that workers can compress two weeks’ worth of hours into a nine-day span as opposed to the two weeks of a fortnight.) The union has fought against both policies, alleging in a statement that the wage increases are “below inflation” and that the nine-day fortnight plan is a “concession.” The museum last submitted a proposal to the union on Sunday, but, in a statement issued on Monday, CUPE advised members to vote against the suggested policies.
In the statement released on Monday, the union’s bargaining committee said, “We’re behind the Gallery; we need the Gallery to get behind us.”
Some groups have come out in solidarity with the Vancouver Art Gallery workers. The recently formed New Museum Union tweeted on Wednesday that it stands with the CUPE members. Citing the Vancouver Art Gallery’s current expansions plans, the Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres wrote in a statement on Monday, “How can the public trust the Vancouver Art Gallery, especially as it embarks on the creation of a new building, if its leadership is out of touch with appropriate compensation for its workers?”
Arnold, the curator currently on strike, said, “The staff has not been willing to strike in the recent past, largely because of our commitment to the institution. This time around, the situation is different, and we feel we need to stand our ground for a fair agreement and for the respect that has been notably absent from the administration over the past decade or more.”
The museum has remained open since the strike began on Tuesday, though some events and tours have been called off, according to the Vancouver Sun.