What is a union?

The purpose of a union is to establish the right to collectively bargain a legally binding contract that protects employee compensation, benefits and sets workplace rights and job security.  By banding together as employees and forming a union, we have more power and leverage to negotiate for better conditions.

Why Local 2110 of the UAW? 

Local 2110 represents thousands of technical, office and professional workers throughout the area, including the professional and administrative staff of the MoMA, the New Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Columbia University, New York University, the ACLU, and most recently, at the MFA Boston. 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, Philadelphia Museum of Art staff have organized a union, and workers at the Carnegie Museums announced their campaign publicly. Across the country, unions are common among higher education professionals and in health care.   Local 2110 already represents the staff of several museums and cultural institutions.

Is the PMA too financially vulnerable to sustain itself with a union?

Without a union, the staff will never be a priority nor will we ever be able to influence how the PMA allocates resources. Currently, like so many institutions, the PMA spends significant amounts on executive level compensation, consultants, etc. but staff are low paid, conditions are extremely unequal across departments, and longevity is unsustainable for many staff.  Without a union, we will continue to be low on the priority list, and will have no voice in our work lives.

Unionizing is not just about getting more money. Plenty of much smaller institutions with lower operating budgets than the PMA 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 requires that the PMA meet us as equals at the bargaining table. 

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 been active in their unions.

What are some things that other unions have negotiated for?

Here are some of the things that other unionized staff at institutions such as MoMA, the New Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music have been able to negotiate in their union contracts*:

  • Improved compensation rates and seniority steps
  • Guaranteed benefits that cannot be reduced without bargaining with the union
  • Supervisors must have just cause to terminate an employee instead of “at will” employment
  • Jobs must be posted and internal applicants must be notified of openings and granted good faith consideration for transfer and promotion
  • Enforceable non-discrimination provisions 
  • Labor/Management committee to discuss mutual concerns including equity and inclusion and health and safety
  • Notice and the right to bargain if leadership decides to re-organize
  • Notice, severance and the right to open positions in a layoff situation
  • A legally enforceable procedure for resolving grievances and disputes that would allow us to bring important issues to an outside neutral arbitrator skilled in reading and understanding union contracts

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.

Can the PMA stop this? 

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 opinion, but employers use misinformation and distortion to disparage unionization campaigns. And 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.

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 has never negotiated any contract which resulted in any employee’s pay being “leveled down” or cut.  At MoMA, which has been unionized for years, there are a range of grade 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 on accepting a contract or going out 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.

If PMA 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 member against staff member 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.

Union Elections

How does the vote work? 

  • After a strong majority of us  (PMA 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 shown to management.
  • It is likely that the NLRB will set a date and time for an election within a few weeks. The election, when scheduled, will either take place on the premises of the workplace, or will be by mail ballot. Either way, it is administered directly by the Labor Board. 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 PMA 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 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. 

Collective Bargaining

Generally speaking, what does the negotiating process look like? 

After reviewing employee surveys, current policies, the employee handbook, and other contracts for similar employee groups—as well as having conversations with members—the negotiating committee (composed of elected bargaining unit members) draws up initial contract proposals. The number of people on the negotiation 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 UAW Local 2110 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.

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’ve already had.  Workers at MoMA, Columbia University, NYU, the New Museum  and other cultural and educational institutions within Local 2110 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 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 touch 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. 

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 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’s 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 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 6 months to a year. But 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 members make it clear to management that a fair offer is necessary through their unified actions and articulated support for the negotiations.  

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: they will ensure that management lives up to the provisions of the contract and offer support to all members with any problems that arise in the workplace. Disputes still happen, but ultimately the union will become a normal part of the workplace.