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American Folk Art Museum Workers Move to Unionize

Staff at New York City’s American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) are organizing for fair wages, benefits, and sustainable working conditions. On June 6, workers across the Upper Manhattan museum’s departments including curators, retail staff, educators, and information technology personnel will vote on whether to unionize with Local 2110 UAW.

“Our objective is to make AFAM a democratic institution committed to its employees; a museum that invests in professional development and continuously strives to create a healthier work culture,” workers wrote in a post published to the newly formed Instagram account @afam_union last week.

Local 2110 UAW also represents workers at other New York institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Brooklyn Museum; and many outside the city including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), where 120 unionized staffers recently secured a new wage agreement after weeks of picketing and bargaining sessions.

“Our members seek to negotiate collectively to achieve fair wages and benefits, uphold workers’ rights and conditions, and create a better work environment. Together, we can aim towards an equitable, inclusive, transparent, and ethical workplace,” the statement from workers read.

A press release from Local 2110 UAW also cited “a lack of transparency and a desire for fair wages, benefits, recognition, and sustainable working conditions” as workers’ reasons for unionizing. Hyperallergic has sent the group an inquiry about current salaries and benefits and requested comment from AFAM.

“I love the Museum, its exhibitions, and programs, but I want employment here to be sustainable over a longer period,” the museum’s Manager of Events Jean Seestadt said in the press release, adding that staff have witnessed “too many great colleagues leave.”

In response to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment, a museum spokesperson said, “The American Folk Art Museum supports the rights of workers to organize and we look forward to positive conversations ahead.”

The effort follows a growing labor effort across museums in recent years. Earlier this year, staff at the Denver Art Museum voted to unionize over a similar lack of fair wages, transparency between leadership and staff, and opportunities for career advancement. Earlier this month, workers at Maryland’s Glenstone Museum announced their intent to unionize, calling for better pay and work environment.

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