NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Workers at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art are looking to unionize after they say the pandemic has highlighted unfair working conditions and job insecurity at the world's largest contemporary art museum.
In a statement released on Monday, staffers say they have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for an election to join Technical, Office, and Professional Union Local 2110 United Auto Workers.
"Forming a union at Mass MoCA will help strengthen the institution by investing in its workers. Though there has long been a need and desire for organized labor, last year's COVID-related layoffs really laid bare the ways in which we don't have the leverage we need or deserve," said Amanda Tobin, associate director of education, in the statement.
The sprawling museum laid off about 120 of its 165 employees at the end of last March and reduced the hours of remaining staff as COVID-19 pandemic forced closure of numerous cultural, recreational, business and education organizations. The museum's popular Freshgrass Festival was canceled along with many of the concerts and performances that make up about 70 percent of its $12 million budget.
Mass MoCA has since reopened but with limited access to abide by pandemic regulations; it currently falls under the 50 percent capacity limit. Some staff were rehired through the federal Payroll Protection Plan but others were not.
Tobin, who's worked at the museum for seven years, said she and her colleagues were let go "with little communication and no assurance there would be a job to return to in future."
"The mass layoffs were isolating and confusing, and were made with no regard to the staff's experience and history with the institution," she said. "Unionizing is the best way to move forward on equal footing with leadership and start to rebuild trust and reorganize priorities in the face of the very real, systemic issues that the COVID-19 pandemic and this summer's uprisings for racial justice have exposed. Together we can start to fix these problems."
The new union local, if approved, would cover curators, art fabricators, educators, facilities, other front-facing staff, and more. The petition cites job insecurity, inequitable conditions, low salaries, and pandemic lay-offs as major reasons for organizing a union.
The union local, if approved, would cover curators, art fabricators, educators, facilities, other front-facing staff, and more. The petition cites job insecurity, inequitable conditions, low salaries, and pandemic lay-offs as major reasons for organizing a union.
It's estimated that about 100 people will be in the newly formed unit, including full- and part-time professional and non-professional staff, including custodial workers.
TOP Local 2110 covers about 3,000 workers in the fields education, museums, publishing, professionals firms and others ranging from secretaries to computer operators to museum curators and editors. Its workplaces include Columbia University, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Historical Society and HarperCollins Publishers.
Workers at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last November voted overwhelmingly — 133-14 — to join Local 2110, citing some of the same issues as Mass MoCA staff.
"I love Mass MoCA. It's an important institution in our community of North Adams and the creative community more broadly," said Maro Elliott, manager of institutional giving, who has worked at the museum for a cumulative five years, in the statement. "The exhibitions, public programming, and community engagement that MASS MoCA facilitates would not be possible without the talented and dedicated staff who work to make it happen. Our value — and values — as staff will be better recognized through an organized and collective voice. I know we can make MASS MoCA a better place for everyone, staff and visitors alike."
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