A group of staff members gathered in the lobby of the New Museum in New York on Friday morning to campaign for their proposed union, NewMuU-UAW Local 2110, which is seeking a new contract and greater transparency at the institution. ARTnews reported on Thursday that workers at the downtown institution had taken steps toward unionizing. The bargaining unit—which according to their website includes members of “all the museum’s departments”—currently numbers 74 workers, many of whom were present at the gathering.
At 11 a.m., with the museum open to the public, workers donned blue shirts that bore the name of their proposed union as well as the phrase “WE DESERVE A FAIR CONTRACT.” The mood was pointed but peaceful, with many in attendance still drinking their morning coffee and conversing as a group. No members of the museum’s upper management—including director Lisa Phillips and associate director and director of exhibitions Massimiliano Gioni—were present.
“I’m surprised I didn’t cry,” Dana Kopel, a member of the union’s organizing committee and an editor and publications coordinator at the museum, told ARTnews. “It was a great turnout.”
The New Museum Union said in a release on Thursday that it has “asked that the Board of Trustees and New Museum management respect our right to organize.” In a statement issued on Thursday, the New Museum said, “We want [the museum’s staff] to make a fully informed decision. In the meantime, we look forward to working with our staff to serve our audience and community.”
The unionizers have alleged that the museum hired the Kentucky-based consulting firm Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan to lead a union-busting campaign. “We’re trying to counter a lot of the fear-mongering that this consulting firm has been spreading throughout the museum,” Alicia Graziano, an individual giving and membership associate, said. “Just letting people know that it’s biased and untrue, and that this is a community of people’s coworkers that is coming together so that we can have some agency in the place we work.”
As the gathering was underway, a Twitter account identified as Former New Museum Employee posted about the institution’s labor policies. “Unlike the upper management of the @NewMuseum, many lower employees worked precariously, not knowing how long they’d have a job, and for low wages,” read one tweet. “We were treated as disposable – just like all labor, we WERE disposable to the upper mgmt overlords.”
The gathering on Friday came ahead of a vote scheduled for January 17 to potentially align their efforts with the nationwide union Local 2110, which is active in New York at the Museum of Modern Art, the New-York Historical Society, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts.