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MASS MoCA union workers voting on a contract offer that could end an almost three-week strike

MASS MoCA union workers on strike in North Adams, Massachusetts, on March 11th, 2024.
Josh Landes
MASS MoCA union workers on strike in North Adams, Massachusetts, on March 11th, 2024.

After almost three weeks on the picket line, union workers at a North Adams, Massachusetts art museum say they’re voting on a contract offer today. Around 120 UAW 2110 members began their work stoppage on March 6th after contract negotiations with MASS MoCA management stalled out after six months. According the union, the offer includes an average pay increase of 12% by the second year of the agreement, as well as greater holiday and overtime pay. Museum management has protested that the workers’ demands would threaten its ability to operate as a nonprofit cultural institution. MASS MoCA is the major magnet for the post-industrial city, whose economy is reliant on tourism. If the contract is approved by membership when voting ends this evening, union spokesperson Chelsea Farrell tells WAMC the strike will end.

FARRELL: We met with management over the weekend for long days of bargaining, and were able to arrive at the current wage offer, which the bargaining committee is unanimously recommending for approval subject to membership vote.

What's the difference between this offer and the other offers you've suggested union members reject in past negotiations with MASS MoCA?

So, I think there's a lot of differences with this deal, Josh. We feel that it does achieve a lot of what the union was seeking to achieve. In total, the average increase over two years is going to be just over 12% for all workers of the unit. But most immediately, in the first year of the contract, they're going to raise the minimum from $16.25 to $18 an hour, which does affect the majority of our membership.

Were there any concessions the union made with management to achieve this compromise?

I mean, certainly. That's par for the course when it comes to bargaining. Both sides obviously have to concede to meet in the middle somewhere. But I think, as I said, the bargaining committee is unanimously recommending this, and I hope the members find it satisfactory, because although, of course, there were concessions, we do really feel it's still, it's a fair deal.

What was left on the table that you wish you'd made it into the final form?

You know, honestly, I think we're pretty happy with a lot of what the deal achieves. No union rep will tell you that they got a perfect contract, so that's obviously not true. But I think it sets us up really well for when we go back into bargaining about two years from now, including places where we were able to make some beginning moves to some structural change, including the introduction of some holiday benefits. But also, with this contract, overtime would kick in at 10 hours a day as opposed to just 40 hours a week, which I think- These changes really go a long way to helping to create a sustainable workplace.

Walk us through the vote that's happening today. What is it going to look like, and what will the immediate outcomes be for both workers and the museum as a whole?

It'll be electronic ballot. So, everyone will have the ability and the accessibility to vote as union members. And should it be accepted, we would expect folks to go back to work, which is, I think, frankly, a lot of folks are ready for that, ready to get back to work ready to continue doing jobs that they love to do.

What lessons do you think the MASS MoCA union has learned over the course of this experience?

One thing right off the bat that I absolutely find as like a complete positive is that, and I think the no vote showed this too, of how unified our membership really was throughout this entire process. And that's just not even in terms of how they see union issues, but overwhelmingly, what we heard time and time again, is that it was, a silver lining of this experience was to be able to really meet your colleagues in different departments who you don't actually work with on a day-to-day basis. And that in itself, I think, is really, really power building, and just speaks to our unity as an organization, and I'm hopeful that it'll carry forward.

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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