It took nearly three years, but 227 workers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, have voted to ratify their first union contract with United Auto Workers Local 2110. The agreement follows 18 months of negotiations and an intervention on the part of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to help both sides to reach a deal.

“Mayor Wu was concerned that as the city is trying to recover from the pandemic, a strike at one of its premiere institutions would be bad for the city,” Maida Rosenstein, president of UAW Local 2110, told Artnet News in an email. “She reached out to the parties.”

“Mayor Wu’s willingness to get involved and to help both sides focus and narrow their differences was absolutely key,” union bargaining committee member and museum development staffer Emma Rose Rainville said in a statement. “We are grateful for her leadership and advocacy in helping us reach a deal that truly supports the union membership.”

As part of the contact, salary increases of at least five percent go into effect July 1, with additional three percent raises in July 2023 and 2024—or a 13.5 percent increase over the next three years.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, workers on strike. Photo courtesy of UAW Local 2110.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, workers on strike. Photo courtesy of UAW Local 2110.

There are also improvements to retirement and transportation benefits, as well as the establishment of a new workplace diversity training program, labor management committee, and a formalized grievance procedure.

Moving forward, the museum will also do away with using different salary scales that started finance and development staff at higher compensation than those in traditional museum and library positions such as curators and conservators, a practice introduced in 2006.

The Museum of Fine Arts staff went on a one-day strike on November 17, 2021 to protest low wages and benefit issues, picketing in front of the museum's main entrance on Huntington Ave in Boston. Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

The Museum of Fine Arts staff went on a one-day strike on November 17, 2021 to protest low wages and benefit issues, picketing in front of the museum’s main entrance on Huntington Ave in Boston. Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

“As we continue to manage the disruption of the pandemic and in the midst of significant inflation, we believe this agreement and our investment across the organization are the right decision,” Matthew Teitelbaum, the museum’s director, said in a statement. “We are proud to reach this agreement and to make this important investment in compensation and benefits across our entire staff.”

Organizing at the museum began in late 2019, and workers voted 133 to 14 to ratify the union in November 2020, joining a swelling movement at institutions from coast to coast.

But with salaries frozen due to the pandemic and negotiations stalled after seven months—the museum was reportedly only offering 1.75 percent raises to go into effect in 2024—workers called a one-day strike in November.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, workers on strike. Photo courtesy of UAW Local 2110.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, workers on strike. Photo courtesy of UAW Local 2110.

The union credits the strike with helping move the negotiations in the right direction. The organizing effort also got a boost just weeks ago, when the National Labor Relations Board confirmed that the museum’s full curators and conservators were union eligible, increasing the power of the bargaining unit.

Local 2110 UAW’s ranks of museum workers have been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. In New York, the Tenement Museum and New Museum joined in 2019; the Shed in 2020; the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Hispanic Society of America, and the Brooklyn Museum in 2021; and the Jewish Museum in 2022. (Whitney staffers recently protested contract negotiations outside the opening night party for the Whitney Biennial.)

A Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, member supporting workers on strike. Photo courtesy of UAW Local 2110.

A Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, member supporting workers on strike. Photo courtesy of UAW Local 2110.

Other New York institutions have been members for decades; the Museum of Modern Art and the New-York Historical Society since the 1970s, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts since in 2005.

“This contract is a structural breakthrough for museum workers who have been underpaid as a group for years,” Martina Tanga, a curatorial research and interpretation associate on the MFA bargaining committee, said. “The wave of museum unionizing across the nation is a clear sign that it’s time museums recognize and reward the valuable contribution of museum employees. I am proud of all that we have accomplished with this first contract in bringing systemic change to our institution.”

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