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MFA workers stage one-day strike, demanding better wages, benefits

Museum says it aims to reach ‘an equitable and sustainable agreement that works for all parties.’

The Museum of Fine Arts staff went on a one-day strike Wednesday to demand higher wages, better benefits, and more job security as they picketed in front of the museum’s main entrance on Huntington Avenue.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/file

The Museum of Fine Arts union staged a one-day strike Wednesday to demand higher wages, better benefits, and more job security for the approximately 200 workers it represents.

In the shadow of the museum, over 100 people — some MFA workers, others not — held picket signs with messages such as “Ancient Art Not Ancient Wages” and “What Would Frida Say?” as cars along Huntington Avenue honked in support.

“I am here so I can continue to work at the museum, because the way things are now, I can’t,” said Jordan Barnes, a library assistant who has worked at the museum for four years and holds a second job at Brookline Booksmith. “I think of the union, and being on strike to get a fair contract, as the way that I can continue to work at a place I love.”

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The strike, announced Nov. 12, began at 8:30 a.m. More than 96 percent of union members opted to hold the strike, which comes after about seven months of contract negotiations with the museum following the employees’ vote to unionize last November. The museum, which still welcomed visitors Wednesday, opened a side entrance mid-morning, where another picket line soon formed.

The MFA, which cut more than 100 full- and part-time positions during a restructuring last year due to the pandemic, issued a statement on Nov. 12 saying it intends to continue its bargaining work with the union.

“Despite serious financial challenges to the arts and nonprofit sector stemming from the pandemic and a slow return to normalcy, our goal has always been to recognize and support our employees, including a commitment to investment in compensation,” the statement read.

The union, represented by United Auto Workers 2110, is wall-to-wall, meaning it includes employees from various departments, including curatorial, marketing, membership and visitor services, IT, finance, education, and more.

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Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW 2110, said the latest wage offer from the museum did not guarantee any increases until 2024, when there would be a 1.75 percent raise.

“It was a slap in the face,” said Rosenstein, who’s based in New York. “In a lot of ways, the MFA is an outlier, because wages are particularly low.”

Rosenstein, who said there has been a wage freeze since 2019, said this proposal is untenable for employees. The bargaining committee has not responded to the wage increase proposal in more than seven weeks, the MFA said in its Nov. 12 statement.

Citing confidentiality, MFA director of public relations Karen Frascona declined to comment further on the specifics of the bargaining terms, including the recent wage increase proposal and benefits negotiations.

“Our hope is that the union will respond to our last wage proposal formally and in good faith, communicating their needs and expectations, so that we can get closer to an equitable and sustainable agreement that works for all parties,” she said in a written statement to the Globe Wednesday evening.

Brenda Breed, a collections care specialist who has been with the MFA for 21 years, said the last few years have marked a low point for the employees.

“The morale here has been worse than any time I’ve worked here,” said Breed. “This is so uplifting for us to be able to come together and show our power and have a voice.”

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Rosenstein said the MFA also seeks the discretion to change benefits at any time; the MFA declined to comment on the matter.

Some patrons, including Jean Treseler, chose to cross the picket line to enter the museum. “It’s between management and the employees, and we’re just the public trying to come visit,” said Treseler, a retired employee of the Portland Museum of Art.

Some museum visitors chose to cross the picket line to enter the museum amid the one-day strike held by MFA employees. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Others, like UPS truck driver Yuri Vasquez, chose to turn around once they saw the strikers. “I absolutely know how it is when you need something but you’re not getting it,” said Vasquez, who said he is also in a union.

Delaney Dameron, one of the artists behind Shelter in Place, a work on display in the museum that speaks to the lack of opportunities to showcase artwork, also joined the picket line. “That piece of art itself is actually commenting on the issue that we’re fighting for today,” she said.

As for another strike, Rosenstein said, she “wouldn’t rule it out.”

“This is not what people want to be doing — they want to be doing their job,” she said. “But they have no choice but to take an action.”

Further negotiations are set for Dec. 3.


Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com