Roughly one hundred unionized workers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) last week voted by a 96 percent margin to strike on Friday, August 19, to protest the wages being offered amid current contract negotiations. Staff will picket the entrance to the North Adams, Massachusetts, institution during the strike, which is slated to run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The workers unionized in April 2021 under United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110—which represents staff at museums across the country—and have since last summer sought a minimum wage of $18 per hour, with annual increases aimed at bringing the minimum to about $20 by year-end 2024. To date, the museum has offered them $16 per hour, with no projected increase. At present, the average unionized staffer is paid $17.30 per hour, with about 66 percent of workers being paid below $15.50 per hour. The union noted in an Instagram post that “according to the Economic Policy Institute’s budget calculator for a modest living in Berkshire County [where MASS MoCA is located], a single individual with no children needs to earn $40,000 a year.” In order to achieve this, an employee working a 40-hour work week 52 weeks a year would need to earn about $19.23 per hour.
The union has also lodged unfair labor practice charges against MASS MoCA with the National Labor Relations Board after the museum allegedly promised certain employees raises if they persuaded the union to lower its wage demands, according to Artnews. In a statement, a MASS MoCA spokesperson claimed that the institution was negotiating in good faith with the UAW. “While we respect our employees’ right to strike as a means of expressing their views, we are also disappointed in their decision, given the positive and collaborative environment that we have worked to foster during our collective bargaining process with the UAW,” the representative said.
According to the Berkshire Eagle, the institution’s upper-level staff will cover for the striking employees on Friday, who include art fabricators, visitor service workers, curators, and custodians. Union workers, who will not be paid while striking, have said that the action represents an attempt on their part to show the value of their labor to their employer and to the public, noting that well-organized strikes have historically led to better contracts and fewer strikes.