More than 200 employees of the Museum of Fine Arts, newly represented by the United Auto Workers Local 2110, have ratified their inaugural collective bargaining agreement with the MFA. The contract, the first since the employees voted to unionize in November 2020, includes increases in compensation and benefits.
In a note announcing the agreement, Matthew Teitelbaum, the MFA’s Ann and Graham Gund Director, said the three-year contract will strengthen the institution going forward.
“As we continue to manage the disruption of the pandemic and in the midst of significant inflation, we believe this agreement and our investment across the organization are the right decision,” Teitelbaum said in a statement posted on the museum’s website.
The UAW credited Boston Mayor Michelle Wu for her help in achieving the deal affecting 227 of the museum’s administrative, technical, curatorial, and conservation employees.
“Mayor Wu’s willingness to get involved and to help both sides focus and narrow their differences was absolutely key,” Emma Rose Rainville, an MFA employee and a member of the bargaining committee, said in a statement.
The new contract, which takes effect next month, calls for MFA workers to get a minimum 5 percent pay increase, with one-third of those employees getting double-digit increases. In the contract’s second and third years, workers will get 3 percent increases. The UAW said the contract also improves retirement and transportation benefits, guarantees promotion increases, and establishes a grievance procedure and workplace diversity training.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement on a union contract with the MFA that will provide a more equitable compensation structure and a democratic voice for the staff,” Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110 UAW, said. “By establishing collective bargaining rights, the MFA staff is helping to bring about necessary systemic change for museum workers in general.”
There has been a wave of unionization among museum workers in recent years, and the UAW has been a major player in that effort, organizing employees at Mass MoCA, Maine’s Portland Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim Museum, among other cultural institutions. Rosenstein said the deal at the MFA will be significant for museum workers elsewhere.
“Museum workers have been perennially underpaid, including the traditional occupations of conservator, registrar, curator,” she said. “Staff at those levels are predominantly women, and they have traditionally been low-paid, despite the fact that museums have been in a tremendous expansion mode, investing enormous sums in building expansions.”
Last November, MFA employees signaled their unhappiness with the level of wages and benefits by staging a one-day strike, picketing the museum with signs reading: “Ancient Art Not Ancient Wages” and “What Would Frida Say?”
In 2020, the MFA cut more than 100 full- and part-time positions as part of a restructuring because of the pandemic, which forced the museum to close for six months.
Jordan Barnes, a library associate at the MFA and a member of the union’s bargaining committee, says she’s grateful for the pay increase, which she believes she and others likely would not have received without the influence of the union.
“Compensation was a huge issue when we went to the bargaining table,” said Barnes. “On a personal note, I couldn’t have afforded to stay in this job that I love without the increases in benefits that the union affords me.”
Asked to characterize the contract negotiations between the union and MFA administration, Barnes paused.
“I think we — how do I want to put it? — I think we are a new union and the MFA hadn’t negotiated with us before and had to undergo a big identity adjustment to see us as an equal at the bargaining table,” Barnes said. “I think our unity, our organization, our dedication really changed the tenor of negotiations into much more of a ‘Let’s get a contract.’”