On Sunday, a group of installers and maintenance workers belonging to the union Local 30 plan to hold an action at the entrance to MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York. The event is being staged to draw attention to their ongoing negotiations over their wages at the museum, which they say are unfairly low and unequal to those being paid to their colleagues at the Museum of Modern Art.
According to Local 30, the pay rates for maintenance workers and installers at PS1 are below industry standards. PS1 installers are currently paid at three rates, all of them between $20 and $30 per hour. MoMA installers, on the other hand, can be paid as much as $47 per hour, according to the union. Local 30 is currently engaged in negotiations with PS1 management to raise their rates to between $30 and $40 per hour. Their prior contract with the museum expired on October 31.
“MoMA PS1 has a terrific team of installation and maintenance staff, and we are committed to reaching a new contract with Local 30,” the museum said in a statement. “We continue to make progress in negotiations, and have our next session scheduled for later this month. It’s been a productive process and we’re confident we’ll arrive at an amicable resolution.” (The union’s next meeting with the museum is currently slated for November 29.)
The union also alleges that the wages being paid to maintenance workers at the museum have led to ongoing discontent. In a letter to PS1’s board, Local 30 also said it is advocating for higher wages for the museum’s maintenance crew, which the union said has been understaffed for the past year.
PS1 is a satellite space of MoMA, which has been affiliated with the Queens museum since 2000. Though it presents more shows by early-career artists than its Manhattan counterpart, PS1 has also hosted major retrospectives by established figures, like Mike Kelley (in 2014) and Bruce Nauman, the latter in a current show that also fills the sixth-floor galleries of MoMA. Unlike MoMA, PS1 is kunsthalle-style museum that does not have a permanent collection. Also unlike MoMA, it stages its exhibitions seasonally, which means that installers are employed on a temporary basis.
“It’s just pretty amazing that an institution that, on its facade, is trying to be a progressive institution or promote progressive ideas, and yet is refusing to pay a living a wage to workers in New York City,” Chris Haag, a shop steward at PS1 who represents Local 30 at the museum, said in a phone conversation. He said that the union had held five meetings with management at PS1, but that the situation had become “toxic.”
“We’re fighting for fair wages, and also to protect our work,” Robert Wilson, the lead negotiator for Local 30, said. “We don’t believe we should have to have a fight like this, but [the museum has] unfortunately taken a hard position.”
The action to be held at MoMA PS1 on Sunday is not a strike or a protest, Haag said, because negotiations are still underway. He instead characterized the event as an “informational session” intended to educate workers and the public about their demands.
For Haag, the ongoing negotiations speak to the larger financial issues that most New York–based artists face these days. “Most installers are artists—they have their own art practices,” he said. “With rising rent prices and people getting squeezed out, the future of New York as a viable place for arts and artists is getting dimmer and dimmer. If MoMA PS1 can’t pay a living wage to the artists who work there, then who can? Who will?”