Staff at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York have voted to unionize for the first time in the institution’s history. On Thursday 27 June, workers elected to join Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE).
The new union will represent 140 of the staffers at the Guggenheim, many of whom work as engineers and mechanics as well as art handlers and installation staff. The vote on union membership, in which 77 workers participated, was approved by a majority of 57–20.
The vote comes after pressure from senior management to prevent employees from joining the union. According to representatives from Local 30, early last week the Guggenheim director, Richard Armstrong, sent an email to staff warning that a union would cause divisiveness ‘on a daily basis.’
The Guggenheim staffers’s vote to join Local 30 comes after a series of high-profile unionization bids, walkouts and increased scrutiny over pay at museums and cultural institutions. In 2019 alone, staff at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music and New Museum and Seattle’s Frye Art Museum voted to unionize.
In an email statement to The New York Times, Sarah Eaton, a spokesperson for the Guggenheim, said: ‘The Guggenheim respects the right of employees to decide whether they wish to be represented by a union and encouraged all eligible employees to vote. The Museum is committed to maintaining a fair, respectful, and positive work environment for all Guggenheim employees, whether or not they chose to be represented by a union.’
Armstrong also responded to the staff decision to unionize, saying that although he understood that staff concerns are based on economic realities, the Guggenheim revenue is lower than other major New York institutions: ‘We provide very high-quality exhibitions, equal to or better than these other museums, but in terms of financial resources we cannot compete.’
‘We are committed to listening to your concerns,’ he continued, however ‘adding a third party into the mix will not strengthen that commitment,’ he concluded.