On Thursday, when guests arrive for the Museum of Modern Art’s annual Party in the Garden gala fundraiser, they may witness another party, of sorts, taking place outside the museum’s home on West 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan. MoMA Local 2110, the union of many museum employees, including curators, editors, librarians, and other staffers, has said it will stage what it’s terming a Party on the Pavement that evening, to draw attention to contract changes it is asking for in ongoing negotiations with MoMA.
In a series of Instagram posts MoMA Local 2110 alleges that MoMA is hiring non-union, temporary workers instead of fully unionized members, requiring employees to work unpaid overtime, attempting to cancel a seniority step program that provides raises to those who have served for specified lengths of time in their positions, and failing to cover an appropriate share of employees’ health care costs.
“Members [of the union] are really upset,” Maida Rosenstein, the president of UAW Local 2110, told ARTnews in a phone interview today. “We have significant problems with how the museum is dealing with curatorial assistance, and the proliferation of temporary employees at the museum. They now want to increase the number of temps. All of this is capping a three-year period in which people have been working like crazy as the museum has proceeded on this expansion.” (That expansion will add 50,000 square feet of new exhibition space to MoMA and is slated to be completed in 2019.)
“They get away with this stuff because they expect people to work for the prestige of working at MoMA,” Rosenstein said. “It’s very frustrating when everybody has worked so hard with perennial understaffing to come to the bargaining table and have the museum lowball people.” Explaining union members’ dissatisfaction, she noted that several employees came to a recent staff appreciation dinner at the museum dressed in union T-shirts.
Asked for comment, a museum spokesperson from MoMA said in a statement to ARTnews: “MoMA’s extraordinary staff are the best in the world. We are committed to working with the Local 2110 to reach an agreement that will keep our community of dedicated staff and the museum on a path of financial stability and future growth.”
This is not the first time that the Garden Party has been targeted by union members during contract negotiations. Before the union members’ current contract was signed, in 2015, many demonstrated outside the gala, which honored artists Richard Serra and Kara Walker.
“Three years ago,” Rosenstein said, “we agreed to make substantial changes in health care to help the museum out, because they said that the premiums for the health care were going up at an extraordinary rate. We agreed to changes in the plan, that did bring the premium cost down. Now, the members out-of-pocket costs have increased dramatically and we’re asking the museum for some relief on this. They’re refusing to address it at all, claiming that issue was settled in the last contract and they don’t want to reopen the issue.”
“We’ve been in negotiations since April,” Rosenstein said at another point, “and we’re not making good progress at all.”