Following three months of contract negotiations and protests over labor issues at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the MoMA Local 2110 Union reached an agreement this Friday for their new contract with the management of the institution. The five-year contract sets salary minimums and includes a new structure for providing pay increases as well as amendments to MoMA’s health care plan. The new contract will offer a seniority step program that offers raises after certain periods of time, a benefit the museum had previously sought to discontinue, as well as guidelines for tuition benefits, paid family leave, and commission and sales benefits for employees in MoMA’s Retail and Visitor Engagement Department. Protests began after the union’s previous contract expired on May 20th of this year with no new one in place. Contract negotiations came at a time of the final push of their massive expansion plan. This expansion plan added fuel to the fire for many due to the museum attempting to offer less while demanding more from their workers in the run-up to the opening.
MoMA Local 2110, also known as PASTA ( Professional and Administrative Staff Association of the Museum of Modern Art,) have long been protesting during contract negotiations, the most recent of which was in 2015 and a full strike in 2000. However, most museums are unable to unionize and/or are too small to successfully negotiate worker contract leading to the pandemic of low salaries and underpaid employees in the museum world. For most of us in or entering the museum field, we are choosing to do what we love, knowing the monetary gratification may not be there. But does that mean it shouldn’t be? Shouldn’t museums be paying their employees livable wages? The answer of course is yes. But why is that not always the case?
The problem of low museum salaries has grown over-time and is both a results of institutional and societal issues. Institutionally, issues of salary equity, with many long term employees still sustaining on archaically low wages, driving down the pay of new hires. Also at issue, the limited overall funding available to many museums as staff are often included with heat and electricity in the museum’s overhead. However, many of the issues in low museum salaries come down to the gender gap and the historical view of museums as “pink-collar” workplace and the hierarchical nature of many institutions. The idea that many women working in museums have family money, or a spouse that can support their career, has long been stereotype of the museum field. Yet, most of us entering the museum field now are young, single, and professionally educated. We cannot rely of the spousal income subsidy to follow our dreams but must juggle student loan payments while we search the oversaturated job market. So what can we do? Negotiate. Calculate a living wage, plus loan, payments and quality of life. We cannot be afraid as young professionals to negotiate a salary and not just leap upon the first job offer received. Most importantly, as emerging professionals we must advocate for professional associations, unions, and museum service organizations that will set and promote national salary standards for museum positions.