Imminent Union Vote Sparks Debate at Manhattan’s New Museum | Modern Society of USA

Imminent Union Vote Sparks Debate at Manhattan’s New Museum

Imminent Union Vote Sparks Debate at Manhattan’s New Museum

The New Museum of Contemporary Art has long identified the need for diversity and free expression as core values, often programming events that reflect that mission.

So some museum employees, as well as artists whose work has appeared there, said they were surprised when, upon learning that staff members were working to form a union, the museum hired a consulting firm that markets itself as a “team of experienced union avoidance consultants.”

The firm, Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan, based in Kentucky, says on its website, “We can help you quickly convince your employees to vote against the union, because it is a bad thing for them.”

The employees announced their intentions on Jan. 10 and are to vote Thursday on a proposal to join Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers. Organizers said they expected the totals to be tabulated that day. Those voting include art handlers, associate curators, staff members of the book and gift shop and others.

A member of the firm met earlier this month with some museum staff members who could be eligible to join the union.

“He pushed the idea that a union is an outside force,” Dana Kopel, a senior editor and publications coordinator at the museum, said. “That union representation would make our work harder or more complicated.”

“We don’t believe unionization is the best way to preserve what is special about our culture or advance change,” the statement said, describing the New Museum as a relatively small institution where staff members are used to working closely and collaboratively.

The statement said the museum had hired Adams Nash for “an initial consult” to provide information on the unionization process, adding that some employees had expressed interest in joining a bargaining unit, while others were not interested or unsure. The statement said that now that the information has been provided, the museum no longer employs the firm.

The United Auto Workers already represents employees at the Museum of Modern Art, the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the New-York Historical Society.

Employees who support a union at the New Museum said it is needed to ensure that they receive competitive salaries and have clear roles going forward as the institution carries out a planned $85-million expansion. Organizers said they have identified 74 museum employees who will form a bargaining unit. The museum has contested some of those selections.

Ms. Kopel said some museum employees earn as little as $35,000 a year to start. She said the museum told employees that the median income for the staff members contemplating joining a union was $52,000, and that $51,000 is considered a living wage. The New Museum spokesman confirmed in an email that $52,000 is the median income for the workers the museum says are eligible to be in a union.

The New Museum was founded in 1977 by a curator, Marcia Tucker, as a place to present, study and interpret contemporary works. Known for an open-minded approach to art and public dialogue, the museum says on its website: “We embrace difference, debate, and multiple viewpoints regardless of race, gender, class, or creed.”

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