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MASS MoCA unionized workers ratify new contract with museum management after 14 months of negotiation

An empty stage sits in an empty brick courtyard with a few people looking at it
Josh Landes
An interior courtyard of the MASS MoCA complex.

Last spring, workers at MASS MoCA – the sprawling art museum in the heart of North Adams, Massachusetts – voted to unionize after vocalizing concerns about being underpaid, undervalued, and overworked. After months of fruitless negotiation with management, the workers held a one-day strike this August. Today, the union announced that as of late November, it had come to an agreement with the museum and voted to ratify a new contract after 14 months at the bargaining table. In a statement, MASS MoCA Director Kristy Edmunds hailed the decision as the result of “the willingness of each party to listen and genuinely consider the other’s objectives and concerns.” Maida Rosenstein is president of UAW Local 2110, which represents workers at universities, museums, and other institutions in New York and New England. She tells WAMC that the three-year contract will cover around 110 union members at the museum, and that it includes sweeping wage hikes among other expanded benefits.

ROSENSTEIN: After many, many months of organizing and bargaining with the museum to try to reach an agreement on a first contract that would cover both full and part time staff of MASS MoCA – everybody from the front-facing visitors services and box office staff to facility staff to curatorial and professional workers – you know, many months, we were able to reach an agreement with the museum, and it was a long road to get there. And last summer, we had a one-day strike, and leafleted many events, etc. But we're finally able to get to an agreement with the museum that we think is a very strong first contract that will make a real difference to the lives of workers at MASS MoCA.

WAMC: We heard a lot about concerns around quality-of-life issues at the museum and compensation and other issues. What do you think define the biggest takeaways from this ratified contract for the union?

Well, for one thing it establishes basic workplace rights that are enforceable under the contract that did not exist before, so that disputes don't get decided just by the museum, but the union will be able to bring them to an outside arbitrator whose decision will be binding. And the contract lays out very specifically many workplace rights policies and procedures. It also, we were able to make a substantial move up in terms of wages and benefits, so that the museum gave out- We were able to win significant equity increases from many, many workers, as well as bonuses that we think will make a difference in terms of the pay for people. It both addresses economic issues for workers and also sets up workplace rights that people will be able to build on in future contracts.

As far as your experience across the union, what stands out about the experience at MASS MoCA?

Well, I think MASS MoCA really is, it's a smaller community. And it was, I think, was very clear to us, and I think eventually became pretty clear to the museum leadership that the workers who are covered in this contract are really critical to MASS MoCA’s success as an institution. The performances and the festivals of the institution, the exhibitions, all of this. Our bargaining unit is intrinsically involved in the success of all of that, and I think that became clear to the museum leadership that that the people in the unit needed to be taken very seriously.

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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