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MUSEUMS

Stage is nearly set for Museum of Fine Arts employees to vote on whether to unionize

News of staffers' call for a vote on whether to join UAW Local 2110 comes as the MFA  prepares to reopen this week.
News of staffers' call for a vote on whether to join UAW Local 2110 comes as the MFA prepares to reopen this week.Blake Nissen/The Boston Globe

After more than a year of work, labor organizers working with employees at the Museum of Fine Arts filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this month to hold a union election, a move that could potentially affect hundreds of administrative, technical, and curatorial employees at Boston’s largest art museum.

The petition, which organizers said has “overwhelming support” among eligible staffers, sets the stage for a vote on whether to join UAW Local 2110, potentially ushering in an era of collective bargaining at a time of deep economic anxiety following a recent round of layoffs and early retirements at the museum.

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“The pandemic has exposed for workers in a lot of institutions that their employment is more precarious,” said Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110. “People need to have some collective voice to be able to deal with these issues.”

Rosenstein, whose union represents some 5,000 workers, said the vote could take place in a matter of weeks, estimating the union could represent about 300 MFA employees. She added that the MFA is part of a recent wave of organizing efforts at cultural institutions across the country: Workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art recently voted to unionize, and similar efforts are underway at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“People will be looking at the MFA,” Rosenstein said. “People are dealing with lower salaries, particularly in these urban areas where the cost of living has gone up.”

In recent meetings, MFA leadership acknowledged they’d been made aware of the petition.

“We respect the right of our valued employees to decide whether they want to be represented by a union,” the museum said in a statement to the Globe. “It’s also important that each employee makes that decision with as full information as possible, and we believe the coming weeks will be a time for candid, open and transparent conversations to ensure the best possible long-term future of our institution.”

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In a written response to questions from the Globe, a group of MFA staffers said that if the museum wants to be responsive to their concerns, leadership will meet them at the bargaining table.

“Too often, the concerns of staff are not a priority for the museum,” wrote the group, which does not have a spokesperson and requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. “Our voices are silenced and often, individual concerns go unheeded.”

The museum, which is being represented by the law firm Jackson Lewis in the matter, noted the petition comes just as the MFA prepares to reopen following a historic six-month closure.

“[A]s we look forward to welcoming back our members and visitors when the MFA reopens this week, we deeply appreciate our employees' hard work and continued dedication as we head to this important milestone,” it said in the statement.

Rosenstein said the vote to unionize will be decided by a simple majority of voters, after which the union will be certified and can begin negotiations with the museum.

“I would strongly hope that the MFA does not stand in the way of people being able to make a free choice without fear about unionizing,” Rosenstein said. “At the end of the day, people at the MFA want things that are good for the institution, but they have a right to fair conditions . . . That’s all this is about.”

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Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.