After workers at the Whitney Museum announced plans to unionize, the New York art institution said it would recognize their group—a rare gesture for a major U.S. museum. Jacobin first reported the news of the museum’s recognition of the union on Friday.
“We respect the desire of our colleagues to engage in a dialogue about collective bargaining, as is their legal right, and we remain committed to supporting all staff, regardless of affiliation,” a Whitney spokesperson said in a statement.
The union at the Whitney includes nearly 200 workers, among them curators, editors, visitor services workers, conservators, educators, and porters. These workers decried a lack of job security at the museum, which has cut its staff by 20 percent since the pandemic began. Because of the Whitney’s decision, workers will no longer have to hold an election to unionize.
The group said it was seeking to join Local 2110 UAW, the same union that includes workers at the New Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the New-York Historical Society. Employees at the Brooklyn Museum and the Hispanic Society are currently seeking to join Local 2110.
After this article was published, a representative for Local 2110 claimed that the Whitney was seeking to eliminate 59 positions from the union, including people in curatorial and conservation departments, as well as employees with limited-term appointments. A Whitney spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Over the past few years, workers across the country have launched unionization efforts at a spread of U.S. museums, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Few institutions where such drives have taken place have voluntarily recognized unions—some have even been accused of union-busting—and fewer still have done so as fast as the Whitney. There were just two weeks between Whitney workers’ announcement plans to form a union and the museum’s decision to recognize the group.
In the Jacobin interview, Karissa Francis, a visitor services associate at the Whitney and one of the leaders of the union drive there, said, “I do think that the Whitney is genuinely trying to create a community of people that want to be there. But a lot of what you think you’re doing right as a company doesn’t work for your employees. Unionizing allows for a reshuffling of priorities for these institutions and [shines] a light on some blind spots that they maybe didn’t even realize they had.”
Update, 6/2/21, 12:40 p.m.: This article has been updated to include comment from a Local 2110 representative.