Workers at the Minneapolis Institute of Art have begun an informational picket outside of the museum, the Minnesota Reformer reported Thursday.
Temporary employees at the museum, who refer to themselves as “casuals,” unionized in 2021 with OPEIU (Office and Professional Employees Union) Local 12. The unionization process was prompted by massive layoffs of “casual” employees during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, those employees numbered around 100, but were then shaved down to 35. Before unionization, most of the “casual” workers did not make the Minneapolis-suggested wage of $15 an hour.
The workers have criticized the way museum leadership handled the economic hardships of 2020, pointing out that the leadership at Mia only took a 15% pay cut whereas leaders at other museums sacrificed much more of their high salaries to keep staff on retention.
“Instead, Mia officials decided to layoff those that are in the lowest-paid positions and the most precarious of financial positions,” reads a 2021 petition from when the Mia staff were first agitating for unionization. “As a result, these decisions have disproportionately affected Mia’s BIPOC staff (which primarily retain non-managerial or grant-funded positions in the museum).”
The union now represents 150 curators and other non-managerial staff who have been fighting for a 16% wage increase over two-and-a-half years, as well as medical benefits.
The union has said that the MIA presented a counter-proposal that offered 15% in wage increases over two-and-a-half years, but only if 9 of the highest paid curators agreed to leave the union. The museum said in a statement that it never offered such a deal.
“Mia and OPEIU have exchanged a number of proposals as part of the ongoing negotiations, which at times have included proposals about changing the unit composition as one component among many ideas to resolve differences about wages, salaries, and benefits,” wrote a Mia spokesperson in an email. “But Mia did not ‘ask’ that curators leave the union and any bargaining unit changes would need to be mutually agreed upon along with all other terms.”
The proposal sparked the decision to picket the museum, which is not an official strike but rather for informational purposes, union workers said.
The counter proposal was “unacceptable” given that the museum has enjoyed a windfall in donations and is operating with a historic $38 million budget this year, unionized workers have said.
“Mia has a record budget this year. (Mia) continues to spend millions of dollars on acquisitions and leadership level salaries,” unionized worker Debbi Hegstrom told the Reformer. “We need to see the love. We need to see how much they appreciate us with a paycheck.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add a statement from a Mia spokesperson.