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Mass MoCA

Mass MoCA workers strike for one day over pay and benefits, as talks for a first contract continue

NORTH ADAMS — Juliana Catalano made around minimum wage working at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art gift shop until recently when she got a promotion after a coworker left.

Minimum wage is $14.25 an hour in Massachusetts, and Catalano said the low pay was difficult.

“That was a long and hard winter to get through,” she said of this past year. “It’s kinda nuts we have to fight to live.”

Catalano was one of around 50 people who gathered at the picket line Friday outside the museum for a one-day strike. Union members decided to strike because they are frustrated that their wage and benefit goals haven’t been met through bargaining.

Low pay was also a reason Tor Hilchey left the museum this spring after working at the gift shop for seven years. She felt burned out, but if the pay was higher, she would have stayed. Now Hilchey hopes current employees will see wage increases.

“This is a really important place,” Hilchey said. “They all deserve a living wage.”

“We care about this place,” added Catalano. “We wouldn’t be here fighting ... if we didn’t love the community and Mass MoCA.”

Many people who work at the museum also live in North Adams, Hilchey added. “It’s such a big part of our community.”

Maro Elliott, a member of the union’s bargaining committee who works as a manager of institutional giving at the museum, said the strike was a result of “a lack of productive conversation at the table.”

All day long, cars honked as they drove by a line of people cheering and holding signs. “A picture is worth 100 workers,” one sign read. “Mass MoCA works because we do,” another said.

“Inflation increases but our wages stay the same,” a poster said. Stacks of brightly colored flyers on Marshall Street informed passersby about why the employees were striking.


Mass MoCA visitors check out the exhibits. There were not many art lovers in the museum Friday with union members and supporters outside on the picket line calling for a contract seeking higher wages. Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.

The museum stayed open Friday and its galleries were relatively quiet. The gift shop and cafe were closed and Bright Ideas Brewing, a business on the museum’s campus, said on social media it would not open until 6 p.m., when the day-long strike was scheduled to end.

The union, affiliated with UAW Local 2110, has about 100 people in a range of jobs at the museum, including curators, box office staff, office workers and custodians. In total, the museum employs 164 people, according to Jenny Wright, a museum spokeswoman.

The strike comes about a year after museum employees voted in favor of unionizing, with a 53-15 vote in April 2021.

On average, the unionized employees make $17.30 per hour and two-thirds of them make an hourly wage of less than $15.50, according to the union.

The nonprofit paid its then-director Joseph Thompson $314,000 in fiscal year 2020, the most recent year’s tax filing available online through ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer. The museum reported $13.9 million in revenue that year in its filing, and an endowment of around $9 million.

Thompson has since left the museum, and he was replaced by Kristy Edmunds last September.

In negotiations, the union is asking for a raise in minimum pay to $18 per hour and built-in increases in 2023 and 2024 to raise it to nearly $20 hour, according to the union. The museum has offered a minimum hourly rate of $16 per hour without automatic increases in the following years, the union said.

The museum said it has a limited budget. “For economic reasons … the museum can’t commit to substantial multi-year wage increases at this time,” Wright told The Eagle earlier this week in an email, “which is why we want to continue to negotiate any future increases at the bargaining table.”

The museum sees negotiations as “productive,” Wright said in a statement Friday, “and we’ve reached tentative agreement with the union on a broad range of proposals.

“We all love this place so much, and we’re proud of the culture of creativity and respect that we have here at MASS MoCA. We look forward to getting back to the table so that we can reach an agreement that benefits our employees and MASS MoCA as a whole.”

The union agreed to some proposals the museum made in June, including a retirement bonus and reimbursement for professional development, according to Wright.

The union sees negotiations differently. “We don’t feel like they are bargaining in good faith at all,” said Isabel Twanmo, a member of the bargaining committee who works in the museum box office.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” Twanmo said of the strike, “but I think it is necessary.”

The museum is supposed to be an economic pillar in the community, she said. “If they can’t pay the staff members, what does that say about supporting the community?”

The union has also filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. One complaint was settled last month and resulted in 108 union members reviving additional retroactive pay after initially not getting an expected pay bump.

In another open complaint, the union alleges that “the Museum promised additional raises to individual employees if they convinced the union to lower its wage demands,” it said in a statement to The Eagle earlier this week.

The union acknowledged that striking and losing a day’s pay is hard and encouraged supporters to donate to a fund to compensate people for lost wages. By late Friday morning, the union had raised more than $5,500, according to Elliott, who said members will apply to receive funds. As she spoke a cash register sound pinged on Elliott’s phone when a donation through Venmo came in and a minute later, a supporter came by in person to hand her cash. By late afternoon, the fund was up to about $7,000, according to Twanmo.

“Strikes are not an easy decision to make,” said Olga Brudastova, president of UAW Local 2110, which represents unions at more than 40 workplaces. How commonly those groups strike depends, she said.

“It’s really a last resort. Hopefully this one day strike is sufficient for management to get the message.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.


Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.

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