UAW: Museum professionals value the right to organize

As one of the largest and most diverse unions in America, the United Auto Workers (UAW) also fight for the rights of lawyers, librarians, museum professionals and more.

Maida Rosenstein, President of UAW Local 2110, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss her work with museum workers, and why museum management often opposes union representation.

Museum, university workers often face opposition to joining a union

UAW Local 2210 is a union of technical, office and professional workers representing nearly 6,000 members who work at universities, cultural institutions and museums. Its members include curators, librarians, teachers and staff workers at places such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Columbia University and the staff of the ACLU’s New York headquarters.

Considering the endowments and budgets of some of these universities, institutions and larger museums, the amount of pushback the Union receives from management is surprising, Rosenstein said.

She remembered one particular museum — the New Museum, a feminist institution founded by a breakaway curator — that hired a union avoidance firm from Kentucky to fight organization efforts on the part of its workers. This was surprising because of the museum’s stated commitment to social justice. Ultimately, its anti-union efforts proved futile. After media exposure of its anti-union fight, there was widespread outcry that hurt the museum’s reputation, Rosenstein said. The workers successfully organized and signed a contract.

Unionization is critical to museum professionals, Rosenstein explained. While many of these institutions have wealthy corporate boards and people in the upper echelons who make high salaries, the majority of the staff earns far less, despite being highly educated. Many workers in museums hold precarious positions, often working part-time with no benefits for pay barely above minimum wage. Union representation helps museum professionals maintain a livable wage that is more in line with their qualifications, she added.

The pandemic has strengthened unions, as more workers seek rights

Rosenstein expected the pandemic to weaken union organizing, but instead it did the opposite. Over the past 18 months, her Union saw what she described as a breathtaking organizing wave. The pandemic shined a light on safety protocols, worker pay and other workers’ rights. Workers saw what they did not have, and they sought representation to fix the situation.

Since the start of the pandemic, she estimates the size of her Union has doubled.

As was the case in the New Museum unionization efforts, anti-union efforts often backfire and only serve to further convince workers of the value joining a union can provide, Rosenstein stated.


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