New York, NY – This past summer, art workers at the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum, and New York’s Hispanic Society Museum and Library voted to unionize with UAW Local 2110, adding to the long list of unionized cultural institutions across the city.
LaborPress had a chance to speak with Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110, to learn more.
LP: What was the most challenging aspect of unionizing NYC museums?
MR: The challenges were similar to those in every organizing campaign, no matter what the industry is. Being thorough in reaching out to a strong majority of workers, and being able to have effective conversations about unionization. Where there were anti-union campaigns, we found them to use the same kind of standard tactics as other places — using misleading information about unions, “third-partying” the union, trying to scare workers about losing benefits from unionization, etc. Most recently, a number of these institutions, while refraining from openly campaigning against the union, have attempted to undermine union organizing by claiming that numerous positions should not be eligible for unionization because they are “managerial” or “confidential.” Often these claims are made on the thinnest of grounds but they use the threat of lengthy, costly litigation to try to pressure unions to agreeing to much smaller and more narrowly defined eligibility criteria. The Whitney Museum did this, threatening to challenge the eligibility of over 50 positions, while simultaneously claiming to be “neutral” and supportive of their employees’ choice to unionize.
LP: How did Covid affect the ability of the union to organize these institutions?
MR: We couldn’t meet in person during the height of the pandemic so we had to do most organizing virtually.
LP: What do you think of the anti-union actions by some of these “progressive” institutions, such as BAM and the NEW museum? Do you think it shows hypocrisy?
MR: It’s particularly disgusting when an institution or organization publicly brands itself as progressive or oriented toward social justice while using “low road” anti-union tactics. Currently, we are organizing at the Blue School, an independent school founded by Blue Man Group that purports to support progressive education. They have hired Littler Mendelsohn, an aggressively anti-union law firm, to use every legal maneuver possible to delay the certification of the union, while consistently mischaracterizing the union as formed by a handful of disgruntled employees. Recently, they scoured union social media platforms to attempt to identify union supporters and have threatened to filed challenges to their ballots in the union election.
LP: Any other thoughts regarding the union’s efforts and successes at unionizing these NYC institutions?
MR: It shows that there is a lot of support for unions among a younger generation of workers who don’t just want “gigs” but want to have employment with livable wages and real security.