What is a union?
The purpose of a union is to establish the right to collectively bargain a legally binding contract that sets workplace rights and protects employee compensation, benefits, and job security. By banding together as employees and forming a union, we have more power and leverage to negotiate for better conditions.
What is the benefit of collective bargaining?
Currently, Guggenheim Museum management decides unilaterally on all our terms and conditions of employment (including whether to furlough and/or lay off employees); our compensation levels; what our benefits will be; when we get time off; whether we get promoted; whether we are permanent, term, or hourly; etc. With the Guggenheim Museum Union, the Museum must bargain in good faith with us over all of these (and more) conditions of our employment, and cannot reduce our benefits without our union’s agreement. (Note: Management cannot reduce benefits to retaliate against us for unionizing, force us to “bargain back” what we already have, or retaliate against us while we are organizing.)
Why Local 2110 UAW?
Local 2110 UAW represents thousands of technical, office, and professional workers throughout the New York and New England areas, including the professional and administrative staff of the MoMA, the New Museum, the Bronx Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and more recently, at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Maine PMA, MASS MoCA, Anthology Film Archives, the Hispanic Society of America, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. The International UAW is one of the most powerful unions in the country and provides our local union with resources and expertise to assist us in legal issues, organizing, civil rights, legislative action, and health and safety work.
Who is eligible to be in the union?
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states that all workers in a bargaining unit share a community of interest. We are proposing a large unit that is cross-departmental and includes most staff who aren’t already unionized or considered “managerial.” This includes both full-time and part-time staff.
Are unions really appropriate for museum employees/professionals?
Unionizing is becoming more and more common in our field. Thousands of workers at museums and art organizations have formed unions or are in the process of organizing. Just recently, staff at the MFA Boston and the Portland Museum of Art (Maine) have organized unions. Across the country, unions are common among higher education professionals and in healthcare. Local 2110 UAW already represents the staff of several museums and cultural institutions.
Can I lose my job for joining a union?
No. It is illegal to retaliate against anyone for forming or joining a union. Hundreds of thousands of workers in every occupation, including non-profits and art museums, have formed, joined, and participated in their unions. With a union, employees have greater job protections because employers must affirmatively demonstrate that they have “just cause” before terminating an employee.
I’m in favor of the union, but I’m nervous about what my boss will think. Do I have to tell my boss that I signed a card and will vote for the union?
Supporting a union is completely legal and normal, but how open you want to be about your support is up to you. Union support cards are not shared with management, and they only go to the NLRB and the union itself. It is illegal for your supervisor or any member of management to ask if you have signed a union support card, how you plan to vote, or if you support the union.
What about the existing union, Local 30, at the Museum?
Many museums and universities have multiple unions that represent different occupations at their institutions. The union we are working with, Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) Union of Local 2110 UAW, represents professional and non-professional, part-time and full-time staff in “wall-to-wall” units at numerous workplaces across the greater New York and New England areas. We look forward to working in solidarity with our colleagues who belong to other unions.
Will the union include part-time and full-time employees? If so, how will a union contract cover priorities for all types of workers?
Yes! We have organized the Guggenheim Museum Union to represent workers who are not already in a labor union at the Museum (e.g., Local 30 members). We are organizing both full- and part-time staff in departments across the Museum to be as inclusive as possible and so that our union will be as strong as possible. In bargaining, we will be able to negotiate for anything related to the terms and conditions of our employment, such as wages/compensation, healthcare coverage, seniority, health and safety, protection against discrimination and favoritism, and union rights.
Can I be in the Guggenheim Museum Union if I am in a union at any of my other workplaces (CUNY, Studio in a School, etc…)?
Yes! It is not uncommon for people to be in more than one union, especially as arts organizations increasingly organize. Our union covers only your position at the Guggenheim Museum and does not bar you from joining unions at any other of your workplaces.
Is the Guggenheim Museum too financially vulnerable to sustain itself with a union, either due to the pandemic or because finances were precarious to begin with?
Without a union, the staff will never be a priority nor will we ever be able to influence how the Museum allocates resources. Currently, like so many institutions, the Museum spends significant amounts on executive-level compensation and consultants but staff are low-paid, conditions are extremely unequal across departments, and longevity is unsustainable for many staff. Without a union, many will continue to be low on the priority list and will have no voice in our work lives.
Unionizing is not solely about bargaining for better wages. Plenty of smaller institutions with lower operating budgets than the Museum have organized because staff want a voice in what happens to them. Unionization will give us the power as a group to demand a workplace that is fair and transparent, and require that the Museum meet us as equals at the bargaining table.
Will unionization cause the Guggenheim Museum to lose donors or hurt relations/donations?
No, there is no evidence of unionization hurting donor relations or donation levels. Large and prestigious institutions like MoMA and Columbia University have been unionized for decades and have sustained donor bases.
There are problems at the Guggenheim Museum, but isn’t management trying to address them through affinity groups, committees, the public DEAI action plan, and more frequent engagements with the Director?
These initiatives may be a good attempt by leadership to address issues, but these are management-led and controlled initiatives that can be dismantled at any time and do not guarantee real change. By organizing a union, management legally has to meet to bargain with our union over the workplace practices, compensation, benefits and priorities that affect the staff of the Museum. This is the only long-term and sustainable means to address systemic problems. With a union, workers are also protected from retaliation, and can air such grievances freely.
If we have a union, will management lay people off?
It would be illegal for the Guggenheim Museum to lay people off simply for forming a union. However, without a union, the Museum or its consultants can lay off whoever and whenever they choose. Virtually all union contracts in Local 2110 UAW, including but not limited to those at MoMA, the New Museum, and Columbia University require management to justify any layoff with evidenced-based reasons, provide notice and severance to anyone affected, and consider anyone who has been laid off for future vacancies for which they qualify.
Can the Guggenheim Museum stop the unionization process?
Many employers campaign aggressively against unionization and try to discourage staff from voting YES for a union. It’s not illegal for management to express their opinions, but employers use misinformation and distortion to disparage unionization campaigns. The following actions are illegal (remember “TIPS”):
- Threaten – it is illegal to threaten, discipline, or discriminate against employees because of their support for a union;
- Interrogate – it is illegal to ask employees about their support for a union or about the support of their peers;
- Promise – it is illegal to promise favors or benefits for a vote against unionizing instead of a vote for the union;
- Surveil – it is illegal to surveil or spy on union activity. It is also illegal to tell an employee that others have said they are a union supporter.
If the Guggenheim Museum conducts an anti-union campaign, what would it be like?
Employers use misinformation, misleading information, and disinformation about unions as their main weapon. Some employers have called special “information” sessions to present staff with negative information about unionizing. Some employers issue misleading FAQs or other written communications, or use supervisors to communicate directly with staff. Often such communications focus on dues, strikes, allegations of union corruption, and claims that unionization will create rigid rules and loss of flexibility. Sometimes employers make promises to be better or ask for “another chance.”
Most anti-union campaigns are designed to pit staff members against staff members and to make people view the union as an outside force, instead of what it really is: staff members themselves banding together for collective power and leverage.
If a manager does approach you directly, here are some ways to respond:
- “Thanks for your feedback, but I would rather not discuss this.”
- “Forming a union is my legal and democratic right.”
- “We support forming a union because it will make the Guggenheim an even better workplace for us all.”
In large meetings or “information” sessions, you should feel empowered to challenge misinformation and to make statements of your personal support! The goal isn’t to change management’s mind, but to demonstrate support to your colleagues and dispel misinformation.
Will the union interfere with my workload/schedule or the mission of the workplace?
The union’s purpose is to create a better workplace for the staff. It is up to us to decide what we want included in the contract and what is important to the entire staff unit. For example, in many Local 2110 UAW contracts, members have successfully negotiated for the right for flexible hours and schedules.
Will the union force everyone to receive the exact same salary?
No. There would be no reason to do that if no one wants it and nothing in a union contract stops anyone from asking for a raise. Local 2110 UAW has never negotiated any contract which resulted in any employee’s pay being “leveled down” or cut. At MoMA, which has been unionized for decades, there are a range of levels and titles. Everyone gets guaranteed increases and step raises, but base salaries depend upon level of responsibility, years of service, etc. In addition, the contract explicitly allows employees to ask for additional, discretionary merit increases.
It is very common to develop an agreement that can successfully accommodate employees with varying interests. Without a union, however, management can make unilateral changes in work rules, hours, pay or other working conditions.
Who decides to accept a contract or go on strike?
We do. All contract proposals are voted on by the entire membership in the workplace. We elect our own negotiating committee and we vote on whether to accept or reject a contract. Before a strike is even considered, we must vote to authorize it by a two-thirds majority.
What are union dues?
There are no dues until after a first contract is negotiated and voted into effect by a majority of the members. After that, union dues are 2% of your regular (gross) wages (excluding overtime) deducted from your paycheck. If you are paid weekly, dues are deducted weekly, if you are paid bi-weekly, dues are deducted bi-weekly, etc. Union dues pay for the cost of maintaining and supporting a strong union, e.g., legal costs, staffing, equipment, supplies, rent, etc.
What about strikes?
Strikes are a pressure tactic of last resort, and most contracts are settled without strikes. By effectively using rallies, leaflet campaigns, social media, and other peaceful tactics, Local 2110 UAW has negotiated many successful contracts without having to strike. Strikes can only be implemented if the members themselves want to strike. Any strike would require at least a two-thirds majority vote of union members. A strike can also be a powerful tactic. At MoMA, workers went on strike in 2000 to maintain their health benefits, increase their wages, and protect their rights as a union. The strike was effective—the museum staff won a great contract and has not had to have another strike.
Who is excluded from the union under the NLRA?
Managers who have policy-making authority for the Museum and supervisors who use their independent judgement to assign, hire, fire, promote, layoff, discipline, etc. (Note: Those who oversee vendors, temps, volunteers, independent contractors, or interns who are not in the unit are not supervisors under federal labor law.) Having the word “Manager” or “Supervisor” in your title is not enough to exclude you from the right to unionize. Security guards can unionize but under labor law, they must be in a separate union from other employees.
How does the vote work?
- After a strong majority of us (Guggenheim Museum staff) sign union support cards, we will petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a vote to take place among all who are eligible for inclusion in the unit. Signed union support cards are submitted to the NLRB and are not shared with management.
- It is likely that the NLRB will set a date and time for an election within a few weeks after receiving the support cards. The election, when scheduled, will either take place on the premises of the workplace, or will be by mail-in ballot. Either way, it is administered directly by the NLRB. The employer is required to post an official notice from the NLRB about the date, time, and specific location for the vote.
- If a majority votes YES, our union will be certified by the NLRB, and the Guggenheim will be legally obligated to bargain in good faith with us for a union contract.
- Our next steps will then be to elect a bargaining committee from among ourselves, survey everyone on their ideas for improvements, and draw up proposals for a legally binding union contract. We will have the assistance and guidance of experienced Local 2110 UAW representatives who have bargained many union contracts. Once our union is certified, even before we agree upon a contract, the employer cannot make unilateral reductions in our terms and conditions of employment, i.e., try to lower benefits so we have to bargain them back.
Generally speaking, what is the negotiating process like?
After reviewing employee surveys, current policies, the employee handbook, and other contracts for similar employee groups—as well as having conversations with union members—the negotiating committee (composed of elected bargaining unit members) draws up initial contract proposals. The number of people on the negotiating committee is relative to the amount of people in the bargaining unit. Before these proposals are presented to executive management, they will be presented to members for feedback and approval.
The negotiating committee will be trained and assisted throughout the entire process by experienced Local 2110 UAW staff.
The final contract must be ratified by members before implementation; union dues are not incurred until after the contract is negotiated and approved by members.
What is the purpose of the negotiating committee?
The elected negotiating committee will draw up initial demands for a union contract, meet with the management committee to negotiate over these demands, and ultimately make a recommendation to the membership on management’s final offer for a contract that will guarantee our compensation, benefits, job security, and workplace rights. Local 2110 UAW does not use a template contract and will not force us to bargain for things we do not want.
What kinds of things can we bargain for?
We can bargain for any term or condition of our employment including compensation, benefits, workplace rights, etc. During the bargaining process, management cannot make any reductions in our conditions to try to force us to “bargain back” what we already have. Workers at MoMA, Columbia University, NYU, the New Museum, and other cultural and educational institutions within Local 2110 UAW have made important gains in salary levels, promotion rights, job security, health benefits, and workplace rights.
How will we ensure everyone’s concerns and grievances are heard and considered in the negotiating process?
Everyone will be asked to fill out a survey and be as honest and thorough as possible in answering questions about their priorities. Members should attend union meetings, info sessions, and actions when called so that executives are made aware of the importance of the contract to all. All members are encouraged to stay in contact with negotiating committee members, ask questions when you have them, and give feedback throughout the process. Negotiating a first contract is a huge responsibility that will require participation by all unit members.
In bargaining a union contract, are we able to negotiate for more diverse and equitable initiatives, such as hiring practices, promotional tracks, and anti-racist trainings?
Yes! Although there are a number of diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI) initiatives at the Guggenheim Museum, the only way to hold management accountable to anti-racist practices is through a union contract.
How can a union contract accommodate so many different interests?
It is extremely common for a union contract to cover a variety of job titles across departments within an institution. For example, at MoMA, Local 2110 UAW represents workers in the store, visitor services, curatorial, and administrative staff. Together, they have been successfully negotiating union contracts for decades, including provisions for wage increases, stronger benefits, and workplace protections.
What is the obligation to bargain in “good faith”?
Although “good faith” bargaining will not require management to agree to any one particular proposal, it will require them to meet with elected union representatives, negotiate with them, offer compromises, and provide necessary and relevant information to assist the bargaining. Through “good faith” collective bargaining, staff at MoMA, the New-York Historical Society, Columbia University, the ACLU, and many other Local 2110 UAW workplaces have achieved substantial improvements in their wages and benefits, and have established job rights and security that did not exist in the past.
How long will it take to finalize a contract?
On average, it can take between six months and a year to finalize a contract. For a first contract, the process of negotiating can become protracted. The likelihood of negotiating a good contract in a shorter amount of time will be increased if the union members make it clear to management through unified actions and articulated support for the negotiations that a fair offer is necessary.
After we ratify our contract, what happens next?
After the contract is ratified, we will elect a chairperson and delegates from among our unit to serve as stewards. Stewards will ensure that management lives up to the provisions of the contract and offers support to all members with any problems that arise in the workplace. Disputes still happen, but the union will become a normal part of the workplace.