MASS MoCA Workers Picket Museum on Second Day of Strike

Unionized workers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in the western city of North Adams entered the second day of a strike today, March 7. The 120 curators, custodians, visitors services associates, and other employees have been negotiating for higher wages since October. According to the union, 58% of its members make only $16.25 an hour, $5.58 less than the rate that constitutes a living wage in Berkshire County.

Employees picketed outside the museum on Thursday from 9am to 2:30pm, chanting slogans such as “We’re overworked and underpaid!” and bearing signs reading “Great art; lousy pay” and “Fair contract now!” Some workers waved posters with “Honk for fair wages” in view of passing cars.

“The energy on the line is good, the morale is high,” Director of Artist Services Meg Labbee, who’s worked at the museum since 1999, told Hyperallergic

MASS MoCA staffers joined United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110 in April 2021. The union represents workers at a host of cultural institutions across the Northeast, including at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. After more than a year of bargaining, MASS MoCA employees initiated a one-day strike in August 2022 in demand of a $20 minimum wage, among other stipulations. The union finally ratified its first contract with the institution’s leadership a few months later in December, securing raises for 90% of workers and successfully raising the minimum hourly wage from $15.50 to $16.25. 

The union codified the right to renegotiate salaries less than a year later in October 2023, but four months on, an agreement remains elusive. Workers are seeking an $18.25 minimum wage retroactive to October and an across-the-board 4.5% salary increase for 2024. The museum’s last offer, presented February 20, includes the establishment of a $17.25 minimum wage and a 3.5% museum-wide pay hike. 

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, museum spokesperson Jen Falk said the museum “continues to bargain in good faith” and is “hopeful to be able to return to negotiations in the near future.” 

MASS MoCA Director noted that the museum’s minimum wage is higher than that of Massachusetts ($15 an hour), there have been no interruptions to employees’ healthcare or retirement benefits, and that the institution has implemented raises and funded employee support programs including student loan assistance and childcare offsets.

The union estimates that it would cost the museum $150,000 this year to meet the union’s demand of a $18.25 minimum wage, from the institution’s current offer of $17.25.

We are ready to be out for the long haul,” said Labbee. “It’s really difficult to be on the line, but there is an overwhelming sense of solidarity.” She added that workers are usually siloed within their respective departments, but the strike has allowed her to meet people across the institution. 

“It’s been an unexpected silver lining,” Labee said.

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