On Monday, staff of the Hispanic Society and Library began striking after negotiations between their union representatives at UAW Local 2110 and the Hispanic Society’s leadership crumbled after a tumultuous year of negotiations.
The strike was provoked by the museum leadership’s offer of a contract that removed healthcare coverage and pension fees that were once covered, without an increase in wage to offset the new expenses. According to the union, workers already accepted a wage lower than that of comparable institutions explicitly because benefits were included as part of their employment contract.
“This was not a bargaining unit of like, younger, inexperienced people,” a union spokesperson told ARTnews. “These are long term employees, professionals in this field who love this collection and only organized to save their pension and healthcare.”
In February, the staff sent an open letter to the Hispanic Society’s board of trustees, which is chaired by Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The letter contained a litany of complaints from a lack of staff to safeguard the collection, to a hazy, if not completely unclear, roadmap to reopening the museum’s main building, which has been closed since January 2017.
“The administration’s decisions endanger its priceless treasures from daily handling to long-term planning,” Patrick Lenaghan, a curator who has worked at the Hispanic Society for 28 years, said in a statement. “The Society is endangering its own invaluable holdings: We are severely understaffed, and our incredible collection is in jeopardy because of a lack of proper safeguards.”
The Hispanic Society presented their last contract offer on March 3, according to a release shared with ARTnews, and while they and the workers “have come to an agreement on most items, we are still working to come to a consensus regarding medical benefits.”
The union is seeking, among more, a 5 percent retroactive wage increase, guaranteed future wage increases, and guaranteed minimum salaries for all union positions, ranging from a $52,000 to $95,000, “depending on the salary grade of the position, and on par with other museums in the city.”
A major point of contention is the health insurance, which the Society used to pay in full. Their latest offer asks that employees cover between 2.5 percent and 12.5 percent of their premium, based on income, while the union insists that the Society pay the entirety of both premiums and deductibles. (The Society’s statement notes that UAW Local 2110 works with other New York City cultural institutions where employees contribute to their healthcare.)
The museum told ARTnews that it remains optimistic about finalizing a contract in the near future.
Lenaghan, meanwhile, told ARTnews, “We are striking for a contract and [we will continue to strike] until there is a fair offer.”