As the Covid-19 crisis looks set to enter its third year, American museum workers, many of whose jobs were precarious or linked to low wages even before the pandemic, continue to push for the unionization in order to obtain some job security. and ensure safe working conditions. Staff at the Art Institute of Chicago this week concluded a process they began last summer and voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionization, with 144 votes in favor, twenty-two against and twenty votes “not counted due management problems”. Employees will join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, becoming the first from a major Chicago institution to do so.
Meanwhile, in New York, Jewish Museum workers are seeking to join UAW Local 2110 of the technical, clerical and professional union. If successful in their efforts, arts managers, curators, educators and development staff would be among those included, along with audience-facing staff, including retailers and experience workers. visitors. The museum – which, in addition to battling Covid-related closures and safety measures, was troubled in the summer of 2020 by allegations of a lack of diversity in the workplace – said it “is will respectfully engage in any process that occurs”.
The uncertainty facing museum workers is now being felt by the institutions themselves, thanks to the relentless fragmentation of the pandemic. Seeking to alleviate staffing shortages caused by the recent rise of the Omicron variant, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announcement that it would raise the pay of its museum guards, raising the starting wage from $15.51 an hour, just above the New York State minimum wage, to $16.50. The facility negotiated the raise with District Council 37 Local 1503, which represents the caretakers.
Given the aforementioned precariousness associated with many museum jobs and the multiple unionizations of arts institution staff that have taken place across the country in recent years, the organizing seems likely to continue. With Covid-19 in the mix, a devastating workforce both in terms of sick employees calling in sick and in terms of hiring issues, with fewer people eager for public-facing jobs seen as risky for personal health, many museums may find themselves following in the footsteps of the Met and rising salaries in the months ahead.