BOSTON (AP) – Employees at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts ratified their first employment contract on Tuesday, becoming the latest respected arts institution to protect workers with a union contract.
The contract is the first since museum workers voted to join United Auto Workers Local 2110 in November 2020, the union and management said in a joint statement.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the MFA on a union contract that offers a fairer pay structure and a democratic voice for the workforce,” union leader Maida Rosenstein said in the statement. “By instituting collective bargaining rights, MFA staff are helping bring about the necessary systemic change for museum workers in general.”
The union represents 227 administrative, technical, curatorial and restoration workers at the museum.
The agreement raises wages and minimum wages. Workers will get at least a 5% raise on July 1, with some workers getting bigger raises. Wages will be increased again by 3% on July 1, 2023 and again by 3% on July 1, 2024.
The museum has estimated the total cost of wage changes at 13.5% over the three-year contract period.
New York-based UAW Local 2110 represents workers at dozens of cultural and educational institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit, museums were forced to close and employees laid off, and many employees found they had little legal protection, said Tom Juravich, a professor of sociology and labor science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The Museum of Fine Arts shed more than 100 jobs early in the pandemic, about half through voluntary early retirements and the other half through layoffs, according to a statement at the time.
For years, museums have treated their humble employees as little more than servants, and more workers have unionized as attitudes change, particularly among younger employees, Juravich said.
“There’s a new generation moving in this field and they’re not impressed by the prestige of just working in the best cultural institutions in the world, they have to foot the bills,” he said, noting that many likely have an advanced degree and significant student loans.
Juravich said it was also difficult to justify working for a living when museum management is handsomely paid and many museum councils are staffed by society’s wealthiest elite.
The museum said in addition to improved benefits for union employees, it has committed to additional investments in compensation and benefits for all employees over the next three years.
“Our people make MFA what it is; They ensure the highest level of care for the treasures we entrust to future generations as we strive to be a museum for all of Boston,” said Museum Director Matthew Teitelbaum.
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