Employees at the New Museum of Contemporary Art voted on Thursday to join United Auto Workers Local 2110, despite what some observers characterized as pushback from museum management.
After filing a petition on Jan. 4 with the National Labor Relations Board declaring their intention to form a union, employees learned that New Museum management hired the anti-union consulting firm Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan (ANHS).
The museum’s decision to hire the firm was met with ire by members of the community who feel that the move conflicts with the institution’s mission, which has historically encouraged open dialogue and equality. “They have been conducting a very active campaign proselytizing against unionization,” said UAW’s president, Maida Rosenstein, in a phone call with ALL ARTS on Thursday. “We were a little taken aback that the New Museum was as aggressive as it was on this because of the nature of the organization.”
Last week more than 70 artists, professors and art professionals signed an open letter to New Museum leadership, condemning their decision to hire ANHS to “sow fear and hostility and to misinform both management and staff about the role of unions in the workplace.” The letter continues: “Such behavior goes against everything that the Museum has historically stood for — that is equity, diversity and a commitment to institutional responsibility.”
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The letter echoes the sentiment outlined in the union organizers’ original statement, which says that their decision to unionize takes root in New Museum founder Marcia Tucker’s mission to build “a collaborative, self-critical, and ‘transparent’ organizational model,” and stems from “pride in the Museum’s legacy.”
“I think many of our organizing committee view unionization as being very consistent with the mission of the New Museum, which was founded by somebody who wanted to create a more inclusive organization,” said Rosenstein.
When asked on Wednesday evening about the decision to hire ANHS, a spokesperson for the museum told ALL ARTS via email: “When we learned that a group of staff had petitioned to unionize, we engaged several experts, including ANHS for an initial consult, to help inform us on the process, guide us on our legal obligations and educate us on the ways to communicate appropriately with a staff that has different viewpoints on the issue. The engagement with ANHS was short-term and concluded as soon as we felt informed on the unionization process.”
“Many other museums have unions, and they have continued to thrive,” the museum spokesperson added. “We fully expect that if the staff votes to unionize the New Museum will continue to advance, fulfilling the mission to provide a flexible and experimental space for contemporary art.”
But Rosenstein said that while the museum announced that it had ceased to use the services of ANHS, tactics to convince employees to vote against the union continued, stating that “they were very aggressive even after they claimed that they stopped using these particular consultants.”
The New Museum spokesperson denies this claim. “This is not at all the case,” the spokesperson said. “We have always had an open and cordial dialogue with the staff on this and all issues. And while many museum employees wanted a union, others did not, and some were unsure. We wanted to respect the views of all employees in this process, while following all labor laws, rules and guidelines. We held multiple meetings to discuss the issue. In addition, we held one-on-one meetings with the majority of the museum’s staff.”
Following today’s vote — tallied 38 in favor and eight against — eligible employees will join the UAW Local 2110, which also represents staff at the Museum of Modern Art, the New-York Historical Society and the Bronx Museum. Negotiations for a contract between the members of the union and the New Museum will commence at a later date.
“We’re so heartened by our overwhelming success in today’s vote,” Dana Kopel, a senior editor and publications coordinator at the museum, and one of the leaders in the effort to unionize, told ALL ARTS via text message. “This win is the result of so much hard work, dedication and solidarity from my fellow organizers and workers across the museum, and we’re incredibly excited to work together to make a change for the better — at the New Museum and in the art world overall.”
Top Image: The New Museum of Contemporary Art. Courtesy the New Museum.