BOSTON – Employees of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday ratified their first labor agreement, becoming the last prestigious arts institution to protect workers with a union contract.
The collective agreement is the first since museum workers voted in favor of United Auto Workers Local 2110 in November 2020, the union and management said in a joint statement.
“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 staff,” union president Maida Rosenstein said in the statement. “By establishing collective bargaining rights, MFA staff are helping to bring about the systemic change needed for museum workers in general.”
The union represents 227 of the museum’s administrative, technical, curatorial and conservation employees.
The agreement raises wages and minimum rates. Workers will receive at least a 5% increase on July 1, and some workers will receive higher increases. Wages will rise again by 3% on July 1, 2023 and again by 3% on July 1, 2024.
The Museum estimated the total cost of salary changes at 13.5% over the three-year period of the contract.
New York-based UAW Local 2110 represents workers from dozens of cultural and educational institutions, including the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, museums were forced to shut down and lay off workers, and many employees realized they had little legal protections, said Tom Juravich, a professor of sociology and labor studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The Museum of Fine Arts eliminated more than 100 jobs at the start of the pandemic, about half through voluntary early retirements and half through layoffs, according to a statement at the time.
Museums have treated their grassroots employees as little more than servers for years, and more workers have been unionizing as attitudes change among younger employees, especially, Juravich said.
“There is a new generation entering the field, and they are not impressed by the prestige of simply working in the best cultural institutions in the world, they need to pay the bills,” he said, noting that many are likely to have higher degrees and major student loans.
Juravich said it is also difficult to justify working for subsistence salaries when museum leadership receives a nice salary and many museum boards are full of society’s richest elite.
MFA unionized workers went on a one-day strike last November to protest what they said was negotiating contracts. The museum, which has about 500,000 pieces of art and attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, remained open during the strike.
The museum said that in addition to increasing benefits for union workers, it has committed additional investments in compensation and benefits for all employees over the next three years.
“Our employees make MFA what it is; They ensure the utmost care of the treasures we have in trust for future generations as we strive to be a museum for all of Boston, ”said museum director Matthew Teitelbaum.
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The Boston Museum of Fine Arts reaches a labor agreement with the workers
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