Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts Reaches Labor Agreement with Workers

by Kerry G. Alvarez

BOSTON — On Tuesday, employees at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts ratified their first employment contract, making it the latest prestigious art institution to protect workers with a union contract.

The collective bargaining agreement is the first since museum workers voted to join the United Auto Workers Local 2110 in November 2020, the union and management said in a joint statement.

“We are pleased to have agreed to a union contract with the MFA that will ensure a more equitable compensation structure and a democratic voice for the workforce,” union chairperson Maida Rosenstein said in the statement. “By establishing collective bargaining rights, MFA staff is helping to bring about the necessary systemic change for museum staff in general.”

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Reaches Labor Agreement with Workers

The union represents 227 of the Museum’s administrative, technical, curatorial, and conservation employees.

The agreement raises wages and minimum wages. Employees will receive a raise of at least 5% on July 1, with some getting bigger raises. Wages will increase again by 3% on July 1, 2023, and 3% on July 1, 2024.

The Museum has estimated the total cost of the wage changes at 13.5% over the contract’s three-year term.

New York-based UAW Local 2110 represents employees of dozens of cultural and educational institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, museums were forced to close and lay off workers. Many workers realized they had little legal protection, said Tom Juravich, a sociology and labor studies professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Museum of Fine Arts eliminated more than 100 jobs at the start of the pandemic, about half through voluntary early retirement and the other half through layoffs, according to a statement made at the time.

Museums have treated their regular workers as little more than clerks for years, and more workers have joined unions as attitudes change among younger workers, especially, Juravich said.

“There’s a new generation coming into the field, and they’re not impressed with the prestige of just working at the best cultural institutions in the world; they have to foot the bills,” he said, pointing out that many are likely to have higher degrees and significant student loans.

Juravich said it’s also hard to justify working for a living when museum leadership is well paid, and many museum boards are filled with society’s wealthiest elite.

MFA union workers held a one-day strike last November to protest stalled contract negotiations. The Museum, which houses some 500,000 works of art and attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, remained open during the strike.

The Museum said that in addition to improved benefits for union workers, it has also invested in compensation and gifts for all employees over the next three years.

“Our employees make the MFA what it is; they provide the utmost care for the treasures we hold in trust for future generations as we strive to be a museum for all of Boston,” said museum director Matthew Teitelbaum.

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