Thu. Jun 8th, 2023

Unionized workers at the Hispanic Society Museum & Library, New York, have authorized a strike to begin March 27, lasting indefinitely. The action, which was approved by 78 percent of members, comes as the institution prepares to reopen April 6 following a six-year closure for renovations. Staff at the museum unionized in 2021, concurrent with workers at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. While the staff at both institutions organized under the auspices of the Local 2110 branch of the United Auto Workers union, ratification of contracts has been slow. The Whitney union finally reached an agreement with management earlier this month, after sixteen months of negotiations. Staff at the Hispanic Society, who unionized after the museum board announced an end to the employee pension plan,  continue to work without a contract.

“We’re a small, dedicated staff that has worked under difficult physical conditions with constant staffing shortages,” Javier Milligan, a librarian at the Hispanic Society, said in a statement. “We’ve accepted lower wages than we could earn at other institutions because of the benefits. The contract they are offering makes our employment truly unsustainable.”

According to a statement issued by the union, leadership has put forth a contract demanding employees cover the cost of health care premiums and deductibles that the institution previously paid for. Though wage increases have been proposed, these will not stretch to fill the gap caused by the new costs. Union members have requested raises of 5 percent in the first year of a three-year contract, and 4 percent annually for the remaining two years. Apart from finance woes, the union cites management’s attempts to shrink its ranks, which number roughly twenty, by falsely advertising jobs as temporary and therefore ineligible for union membership.

In a February 3 letter to management, the union decried management’s decision to reopen April 6 despite much of the collection remaining off-site, on loan, and despite low staffing levels, which the union says it is responsible for. “The administration’s decisions endanger its priceless treasures from daily handling to long-term planning. The administration has failed to replace key collections care staff such as curators, conservators, and art handlers, placing intolerable stress on the people who safeguard the collection,” said Patrick Lenaghan, who has worked as a curator at the Hispanic Society for twenty-eight years. “The society is endangering its own valuable collection: We are severely understaffed and our incredible collection is in jeopardy because of a lack of proper safeguards.”

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