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Union plans one-day strike Friday at Mass MoCA in North Adams

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Members of UAW Local 2110 pose for a photograph as part of a social media campaign. The local plans a one-day strike Friday.  

NORTH ADAMS — Members of the national union that represents nearly 100 workers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art will strike this week, as they continue to bargain over a first contract.

The union says the strike will take place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. It comes more than a year after UAW Local 2110 formed and is in part a response to what members view as a failure by the museum to bargain in good faith on a first contract.

“Never underestimate the strength and force of a hard-working team … especially when they’re being underpaid,” the union said in an Instagram post this weekend. “WE’RE GOING ON STRIKE.”

The union said in social media statements that members of the bargaining group voted to authorize the one-day strike. The local plans to picket outside an entrance to the museum at 1040 Mass MoCA Way in North Adams.

Jenny Wright, Mass MoCA’s director of strategic communications and advancement, said Sunday the museum’s managers and leaders will work Friday to cover during the strike. That will include receiving museum visitors, helping them navigate the campus and monitoring audiences in galleries.

Wright said the museum views ongoing contract talks as “productive.” The local has agreed to proposals the museum put on the table June 2 that include a retirement bonus and reimbursement for professional development expenses, she said in an email, in response to questions.

Another museum proposal, the LemonAid Fund, would be set up to provide financial help to employees “facing sudden hardships,” Wright said.

“It’s disappointing that employees have chosen to strike in spite of this progress, but we look forward to getting back to the bargaining table to continue negotiations,” she said.

The union takes a different view, saying negotiations over hourly pay are not moving in the direction it seeks.

Two-thirds of the local’s members make under $15.50 an hour, according to the union. The average wage for represented workers is $17.30 an hour.

In bargaining, the union seeks a minimum hourly rate of $18 in a contract’s first year, with pay rising in the next two years to nearly $20 an hour. According to the union, the museum is offering a $16 per hour minimum with no guarantees of increases in 2023 and 2024.

Maro Elliott, a member of the union negotiating committee, said the decision to strike for a day was difficult.

“We all love MASS MoCA but we felt we had no choice,” Elliott said in a statement released Sunday by the local. “Throughout months of bargaining, MASS MoCA’s representatives have been antagonistic toward our union, telling us we need to put the arts first. We love MASS MoCA but we also have to live.”

The vote to strike for one day was nearly unanimous, drawing 96 percent support, according to the union.

In April 2021, 68 workers in various Mass MoCA departments voted, 53-15, to affiliate with a branch of the United Auto Workers that represents museum employees. That tally represented 78 percent of the 93 workers who were eligible at the time to vote in the union campaign, overseen by National Labor Relations Board officials in Hartford, Conn. The size of the current bargaining group is unclear.

The museum did not oppose the union campaign in 2021. At the time, the museum was led by an interim director, Tracy Moore, following the departure of longtime director Joe Thompson. “We genuinely want to make every good faith effort to do the right thing for our employees,” Moore said in a statement in March 2021.

Since then, Kristy Edmunds was hired to lead the institution.

Since last summer, the local has been negotiating on contract terms. A meeting of members Thursday provided an update on bargaining, according to a union post on social media.

Members of the bargaining unit include people who work in a slew of museum departments, including visitor services, buildings and grounds, custodial, performing arts, visual arts, art fabrication, curators and educators, as well as administrative and professional workers.

As the one-day strike nears, the union is seeking financial contributions from people willing to help local members cover a lost day of wages.

“We acknowledge that forgoing pay to strike is a sacrifice,” the union says in an Instagram post. “We believe that everyone who wants to join the strike should be able to do so regardless of their financial situation.”

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

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