Unionized workers at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art have reached a tentative inaugural contract with their employer after sixteen months of negotiations that saw frustrated workers picketing a fundraiser on an icy night earlier this year. Hyperallergic reports that the three-and-a-half-year contract awards staffers, particularly the lowest-paid among the ranks, substantial raises. Those previously being paid a minimum hourly wage of $17 will now earn $22, retroactive to January 1, 2023, with a target hourly wage of $24 by the end of June 2025. Additionally, the museum will increase the minimum wage paid to all employees across its five sectors, with staffers on average receiving 15 percent pay raises, retroactive to January 1. Union members will be given $1,000 signing bonuses and will be awarded 9.5 percent pay raises over the duration of the contract
Also included in the contract are measures to improve the museum’s safety protocols and requiring the Whitney to offer extra hours to permanent workers before hiring temp staff. Under the new agreement, temporary workers will receive the newly established minimum wage and will be awarded paid holidays. As well, they will be given preference when the museum is looking to fill permanent roles.
Employees of the Whitney had voted 96 to 1 to unionize under the Local 2110 branch of the United Auto Workers union in August 2021. Though the museum announced even before the vote took place that it would recognize the union, workers accused the institution of dragging its feet on contract negotiations and said that Whitney officials suggested setting wage increases without engaging in the bargaining process.
“As a curatorial project employee who has worked at the Whitney for five years, I am heartened that this contract ensures that so many staff, including those hired on temporary or grant-funded projects, will be protected by our contract with a path to longer-term employment,” said union member and curatorial research associate Ramsay Kolber in a statement. “Unionization in our field is a way to make long-term careers in museums more sustainable and equitable.”