NORTH ADAMS — Citing job insecurity and inequitable conditions, staff at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art informed the federal government Monday that they plan to vote on whether to form a union.
The staff include curators, art fabricators, educators, facilities and other “front-facing” employees, according to a news release from UAW Local 2110, which represents cultural and administrative workers across New England and New York.
“Staff members cite job insecurity, inequitable conditions, low salaries, and pandemic lay-offs as major reasons for organizing a union,” the release stated.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced local cultural institutions, including Mass MoCA, to lay off workers en masse last spring.
“It’s misery,” Joseph Thompson, then-director of Mass MoCA, told The Eagle in March 2020, when the museum announced that 120 of 165 employees would be out of work within a month.
“In March, many of my colleagues were let go, myself included, with little communication and no assurance there would be a job to return to in future,” Amanda Tobin, associate director of education, who has been at the museum for seven years, said in the release.
Some of the staff who were laid off last spring were rehired by the museum after it received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, while other long-term employees were not, according to the release.
“The mass layoffs were isolating and confusing, and were made with no regard to the staff’s experience and history with the institution,” Tobin continued. “Unionizing is the best way to move forward on equal footing with leadership and start to rebuild trust and reorganize priorities in the face of the very real, systemic issues that the Covid-19 pandemic and this summer’s uprisings for racial justice have exposed. Together we can start to fix these problems.”
Jenny Wright, director of communications for Mass MoCA, said the institution would have no further comment on the workers’ push to unionize.
The release from UAW Local 2110 also quoted Maro Elliott, manager of institutional giving at the museum.
“I love Mass MoCA. It’s an important institution in our community of North Adams and the creative community more broadly,” Elliott said. “The exhibitions, public programming, and community engagement that Mass MoCA facilitates would not be possible without the talented and dedicated staff who work to make it happen.
“Our value — and values — as staff will be better recognized through an organized and collective voice,” Elliott said. “I know we can make Mass MoCA a better place for everyone, staff and visitors alike.”