Brooklyn Museum Workers Move to Unionize

Workers at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City are making moves to unionize. According to the New York Times, Local 2110 UAW filed a union vote petition today on behalf of 130 employees, including full-time and part-time curators, conservators, educators, and visitor services representatives.

Natalya Swanson, a conservator who has been involved in the organizing effort, cited job security, pay equity, and upward mobility as the main reasons for forming a union. As of September 2020, the museum had laid off 27 employees and furloughed a number of part-time staff making over $75,000 a year, according to a museum spokesperson.

“People see many advantages to having a more democratic voice in the institution,” Swanson told the Times. “We recognize that we have the ability to advance the conditions for everyone in the workplace.”

While the Brooklyn Museum is often lauded as a progressive institution, employing a staff that is approximately 51% BIPOC, some workers have spoken out against a starkly different reality behind closed doors. Amid Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer, dozens of current and former employees signed an open letter denouncing “the harm and daily mistreatment” of staff of color at the institution. Former workers told Hyperallergic that when they read the missive out loud during an all-staff Zoom meeting, museum director Anne Pasternak warned them not to leak the document to press. In interviews, they accused leadership of fostering a culture of retaliation and silencing.

Located in a primarily-Black neighborhood, the Brooklyn Museum has been at the center of numerous protests related to social justice and racial equity. In 2018, during the run of the exhibition This Place, activists entered the museum and rewrote labels for photos of Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories to include their Arabic names. The action led to the creation of Decolonize This Place (DTP), a massive grassroots movement founded to expose art institutions’ ties to dirty money and their hoarding of looted artifacts, which has since led actions protesting Warren Kanders at the Whitney Museum and NYPD’s over-policing.

The Brooklyn Museum is the latest in a recent spate of collective bargaining campaigns at New York City organizations. Last week, workers at the Whitney Museum of American art announced their intent to form a union, also with Local 2110 UAW, which represents employees at institutions across the country.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a spokesperson said, “The Brooklyn Museum respects the rights of our employees to consider and evaluate union representation and is committed to a cooperative, fair and respectful process in order to achieve the best outcome for our staff.”

While the museum is often billed as a progressive institution, some workers have spoken out against a starkly different reality behind closed doors.Read MoreNews, Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, museum unions, New YorkHyperallergicRead More

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