Guggenheim Museum curators move to join a union

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Guggenheim Museum curators move to join a union
The exterior of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, July 15, 2019. Conservators, curators and other staff members at the museum are seeking to join a union local affiliated with the United Auto Workers. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Colin Moynihan

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- For decades there were no unions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, but now its curators, conservators, editors and other employees are aiming to form the second in just over two years, organizing with a local connected to the United Auto Workers.

Workers in similar jobs are already part of collective bargaining units at institutions like the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

On Friday, the Technical, Office and Professional Union, Local 2110, UAW filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking for it to authorize a vote by the Guggenheim employees on the union, said Maida Rosenstein, the local’s president.

She said she had sent an email message to the Guggenheim’s director, Richard Armstrong, letting him know that the petition had been filed.

“We respectfully ask the Museum not to delay the election or campaign against the employees’ free choice to unionize,” the email said in part. “Other institutions have remained neutral and not interfered with unionization votes.”

In 2019, shortly before art handlers, maintenance mechanics and other Guggenheim employees voted to join Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, union officials said Armstrong sent an email message to museum employees that said he believed a union would inject divisiveness “on a daily basis” into the institution.

On Friday, the Guggenheim released a statement acknowledging that it had received the petition to form a new union at the museum and stating that it “recognizes the right of its employees to enter collective bargaining.”

“The Museum will announce next steps shortly,” the statement said.

Rosenstein said the proposed bargaining unit would represent about 160 professional and nonprofessional workers, including visitor services employees and some on-call per diem workers, like museum educators.

Although there had been discussion for years among Guggenheim employees about forming a collective bargaining unit that would represent its professional staff, employees said there was a renewed push during the pandemic.

“Unionizing is becoming more and more common, especially within our field,” said Julie K. Smitka, a digital associate producer at the Guggenheim who has taken part in the organizing efforts there. “At a lot of institutions during the pandemic there were furloughs and layoffs and I think that got the gears turning about what a union could do for us.”

Smitka said that many of their colleagues were concerned with job security, pay equity and health insurance. Another Guggenheim worker who has taken part in the union drive, Rosemary Taylor, said that “racial equity and diversity” and transparency in decision-making were also important issues.

Taylor, a teaching artist who worked within a Guggenheim program that sends artists to public schools, said many employees wanted to know more about what museum officials were planning and have a chance to speak up about matters that affect them.

“We want to have a voice,” she said. “We want to make the jobs that we love better so we can keep doing them.”

A wave of organizing that began about 2 1/2 years ago has led employees to form unions at institutions across the country including the New Museum in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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