The Whitney Will Voluntarily Recognize New Union

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Two weeks after staff members at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art launched their campaign for union representation, the museum in an uncommon move has declared that it will voluntarily recognize the new union, which forms amid a surge of pandemic-induced organizing efforts in art institutions across the country. On May 17, around 180 conservators, curators, educators, editors, porters, and visitor-services workers petitioned to join the Local 2110 branch of the United Auto Workers union, which represents workers at the Museum of Modern Art and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, among other museums.

“We respect the desire of our colleagues to engage in a dialogue about collective bargaining, as is their legal right, and we remain committed to supporting all staff, regardless of affiliation,” a representative for the Whitney said in a statement.

As with countless institutions worldwide, the Whitney has recently slashed its workforce amid virus-driven shutdowns, with around 20 percent of its workers losing their jobs since the pandemic began. In April 2020, the museum laid off 76 employees, most in visitor-services positions; this February, the Whitney terminated 15 more jobs across 11 departments in an attempt to address a $23 million budget shortfall.

“The layoffs were a wake-up call to the need for better protection,” Karissa Francis, a visitor-services assistant who led the unionization effort, said in a statement. “We realized we would have to band together to negotiate for better working conditions.” The workers’ drive to join Local 2110 coincided with that of workers at the Hispanic Society of America in New York; that museum has not yet issued a statement on the status of its negotiations.

The Whitney’s unionization follows successful efforts in recent years by New York’s New Museum and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

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