MASS MoCA Workers Threaten to Strike Again Over Wages 

After approximately four months of wage negotiations, unionized workers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) plan to start striking on Wednesday, March 6, if an agreement on wage increases is not reached. Having ratified its first hard-fought contract with the museum in December 2022 with the ability to renegotiate wages in October 2023, the union, made up of 120 staffers under United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110, said in a statement that it would picket the museum daily.

The union reports that over half of its bargaining unit earns $16.25 an hour, per the 2022 contract’s wage floor increase, bringing a full-time employee’s annual salary to $43,600. However, the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator outlines that the annual expenses for a single adult with no children in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, is above $47,000, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator establishes that a minimum hourly wage for a single adult with no children in Berkshire County would be $21.83.

“Many of us live locally and our pay has not kept pace with the cost of living,” Meg Labbee, a negotiating committee member and museum employee of 25 years who lives in the town of Adams, told Hyperallergic. “By raising pay to something more livable, MASS MoCA would not only be supporting its employees, but helping lift the community, MASS MoCA’s rejection of our reasonable proposal has left us with no choice but to strike the institution we love.”

Workers are now seeking a retroactive increase to $18.25 an hour from October 2023, and a minimum 4.5% increase on that figure for 2024, which the museum reportedly declined via email on March 1. The union alleges that the museum would need to increase its annual budget by $150,000 to accommodate the desired wage increases, also noting that MASS MoCA has added and filled various higher-paid management positions since the union formalized in April 2021.

In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, the museum outlined “its highest offer to date at the bargaining table,” retroactive to January 1: a 3.5% across-the-board salary increase; select equity increases averaging over 5%; and a minimum hourly wage of $17.25 — which it noted was “higher than any state-mandated minimum wage across the country.”

“We are extremely disappointed that the United Auto Workers union has decided to take action against MASS MoCA in the form of an indefinite strike in response,” Museum Director Kristy Edmunds said in the statement. “MASS MoCA cannot agree to terms that will diminish our mission or operational sustainability, upend vital partnerships, reduce our programs, or fundamentally change our creative workplace culture.”

The museum noted that it would continue to operate as usual in the event of a strike.

It’s not the first time the museum’s union has opted to strike. Unionized employees led a one-day picket at the museum on August 19, 2022 after filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board that accused the museum of “bad-faith bargaining.”

The union also called attention to another employee complaint against the museum made to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last November alleging that staffers were ordered to remove asbestos-contaminated floor tiles in several areas of the institution without proper training or equipment. OSHA confirmed in January that three of five tile samples were contaminated, and instructed the museum to inform its employees.

A MASS MoCA representative told Hyperallergic that “the November 2023 Union complaint to OSHA was investigated and it will be concluding in the upcoming weeks.”

“At the time of the on-site visit, OSHA and Dept of Environmental Protection did not identify any exposure risk to tenants or MASS MoCA staff by air or the ventilation system,” the spokesperson said.

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