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MASS MoCA Union Election To Be Held In April

MASS MoCA clock tower sunset
Paul Gallo

Earlier this month, the employees of MASS MoCA – the sprawling modern art museum in North Adams, Massachusetts – announced plans to form a union. A mail-in unionization vote among the staff of around 130 is being conducted over the course of April. In a statement, MASS MoCA says it respects their right to pursue a union, and that it won’t oppose or interfere in the process. WAMC spoke with staff spokesperson and Associate Director of Education Amanda Tobin about what the union vote will look like, and why MASS MoCA employees want to join the UAW Local 2110.

TOBIN: Things are looking pretty good. We have an election scheduled for most of the month of April, which is a quick turnaround really thanks to MASS MoCA’s leadership agreeing to be neutral throughout this process.

WAMC: Yeah, let's get into that- What's communication with the museum itself been like during this, this process?

Direct communication has been fairly limited beyond the sort of legal required statements that the museum sends to their staff, just because they've been very careful to try and not violate any of the communications regulations around this process to make sure that they are not interfering with anybody or trying to sway anybody's opinion one way or another. So most of the communication has actually gone through Local 2110 to sort of negotiate the stipulation for the election and the dates and who's eligible and all those sorts of things.

So what will the election determine for the union?

Whether or not we'll have a union. So it's sort of basic, do we want to have Local 2110 represent us as members of MASS MoCA? Yes or no. And then a small group of people were identified as professionals, which means that they- typically that means that they have different requirements for education or training, and they'll have a second question, which just says, do you want to be in the same union as everybody else, the nonprofessionals. And it's a kind of holdover of a way of distinguishing between people based on class or sort of blue collar, white collar, although in MASS MoCA’s case is a little confusing about who got picked for that designation and who didn't. But we are trying to get the message across that one wall-to-wall unit is a stronger unit than one unit of 11 people and then another unit of the rest of the staff.

Now, you said that the election is going to be taking place over the month of April. Break it down for me, what's the structure and timeline for that voting process?

So because of the pandemic, voting is happening by mail instead of in person, which is why it's sort of this prolonged period. The ballots are being mailed to us on April 6th, and then they're due to the Labor Board by April 27th. And everybody gets a sort of pre-addressed stamped envelope mailed to their home address, and then there'll be a live counting of the ballots on Zoom open to the public on April 28th at 1pm.

If the vote goes through in the affirmative, what happens next? When will there actually be the official mass MOCA union?

Well, so the next phase is to try and bargain and get a contract. So the union is formed, and it's a very exciting moment, and then it gets down to okay, what does this actually mean for us as an institution as workers within the institution, and the bargaining phase can take about a year is what we hear is pretty average. And we'll sit down with the leadership and the union and start to negotiate over what the working conditions that we would like to see will be.

And as a refresher, what's on the top of that list at this point?

Part of that phase will be interviewing and doing a really democratic process to make sure we're representing the will of our colleagues across the museum. But some of the things that have come up in our organizing conversations with folks are job security, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the layoffs last year, pay equity, paid family leave other kinds of medical benefits and things like that.

What's the tone like among employees at this point? Obviously, with the pandemic, I imagine that this is not quite as jubilant a moment as you would have hoped it would have been, but, you know, in conversations leading up to this rolling election process, what's the atmosphere like?

People are really excited and you know, it is it does feel like a bit of a loss to not be able to celebrate in person together, but we still have those moments of passing each other in the hallway and just sort of beaming at each other and feeling really excited about this next step. We are starting to sort of think about sharing our news with folks. We've been posting a lot of those “I Support” selfies on our Instagram page. We're starting to get some in from community members and former staff members who are just cheering us along, and so it's really building a lot of excitement for this process.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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