What is a union?
The purpose of a union is to establish the right to collectively bargain a legally binding contract that protects employee compensation, benefits and sets workplace rights and job security. By banding together as employees and forming a union, we have more power and leverage to negotiate for better conditions.
What is the benefit of collective bargaining?
Currently, Whitney management decides unilaterally on all our terms and conditions of employment (including whether to furlough and/or lay off employees): our compensation levels, what our benefits will be, whether we get promoted, whether we are permanent, term, or hourly, when we get time off, etc. With a union, the Museum must bargain in good faith with us over all of these (and more) conditions of our employment, and cannot reduce our benefits without our union’s agreement. (Note: management cannot reduce benefits to retaliate against us for unionizing, or to force us to “bargain back” what we already have or to retaliate against us while we are organizing.)
Why Local 2110 of the UAW?
Local 2110 represents thousands of technical, office and professional workers throughout the New York and New England areas, including the professional and administrative staff of the MoMA, the New Museum, the Bronx Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and more recently, at the MFA Boston, PMA Maine, and MASS MoCA. The International UAW is one of the most powerful unions in the country and provides our local union with resources and expertise to assist us in legal issues, organizing, civil rights, legislative action, and health and safety work.
Who is eligible to be in the union?
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states that all workers in a bargaining unit share a community of interest. We are proposing a large unit that is cross-departmental and includes most staff who aren’t already unionized or considered “managerial.” This includes both full-time and part-time staff.
Can I lose my job for joining a union?
NO. It is illegal to retaliate against anyone for forming or joining a union. Hundreds of thousands of workers in every occupation, including non-profits and art museums, have formed, joined, and been active in their unions. Furthermore, with a union, employees have greater job protection because employers must affirmatively demonstrate that they have “just cause” before terminating an employee.
I’m in favor of the union but I’m nervous about what my boss will think. Do I have to tell my boss that I signed a card and will vote for the union?
Supporting a union is completely legal and normal, but it is up to you how open you want to be about your support. Union support cards are not shared with management, and they only go to the NLRB and the union itself. It is illegal for your supervisor or any member of management to ask if you have signed a union support card, how you plan to vote, or whether you support the union.
Is the Whitney too financially vulnerable to sustain itself with a union, either due to the pandemic or because finances were precarious to begin with?
Without a union, the staff will never be a priority nor will we ever be able to influence how the Whitney allocates resources. Currently, like so many institutions, the Whitney spends significant amounts on executive level compensation, consultants, etc. but staff are low paid, conditions are extremely unequal across departments, and longevity is unsustainable for many staff. Without a union, we will continue to be low on the priority list, and will have no voice in our work lives.
Unionizing is not solely about bargaining for better wages. Plenty of much smaller institutions with lower operating budgets than the Whitney have organized because staff want a voice in what happens to them. Unionization will give us the power as a group to demand a workplace that is fair and transparent, and requires that the Whitney meet us as equals at the bargaining table.
If we have a union, will management lay people off?
It would be illegal for the Whitney to lay people off simply for forming a union. However, without a union, the Museum or its consultants can lay off whoever and whenever they choose. Virtually all the union contracts in Local 2110, including at MoMA, the New Museum, Columbia University, etc., require management to justify any layoff with hard information about the reason, provide notice and severance to anyone affected, and to consider anyone who has been laid off for future vacancies for which they qualify.
Can the Whitney stop this?
Many employers campaign aggressively against unionization and try to discourage staff from voting YES for a union. It’s not illegal for management to express their opinion, but employers use misinformation and distortion to disparage unionization campaigns. And the following actions are illegal. (remember “TIPS”):
- Threaten – it is illegal to threaten, discipline, or discriminate against employees because of their support for a union;
- Interrogate – it is illegal to ask employees about their support for a union or about the support of their peers;
- Promise – it is illegal to promise favors or benefits for a vote against unionizing instead of a vote for the union;
- Surveil – it is illegal to surveil or spy on union activity. It is also illegal to tell an employee that others have said they are a union supporter.
If the Whitney conducts an anti-union campaign, what would it be like?
Employers use misinformation, misleading information, and disinformation about unions as their main weapon. Some employers have called special “information” sessions to present staff with negative information about unionizing. Some employers issue misleading FAQs or other written communications, or use supervisors to communicate directly with staff. Often such communications focus on dues, strikes, allegations of union corruption and claims that unionization will create rigid rules and loss of flexibility. Sometimes employers make promises to be better or ask for “another chance.”
Most anti-union campaigns are designed to pit staff members against staff members and to make people view the union as an outside force, instead of what it really is: staff members themselves banding together for collective power and leverage.
If a manager does approach you directly, here are some ways to respond:
“Thanks for your feedback, but I would rather not discuss this.”
“Forming a union is my legal and democratic right.”
“We support forming a union because it will make the Whitney an even better workplace for us all.”
In large meetings or “information” sessions, you should feel empowered to challenge misinformation and to make statements of your personal support! The goal isn’t to change management’s mind, but to demonstrate support to your colleagues and dispel misinformation.
Will the union interfere with my workload/work schedule/mission of the workplace?
The union’s purpose is to create a better workplace for the staff. Moreover, it is up to us to decide what we all want to see in the contract and what is important to us. For example, in many Local 2110 contracts, members have successfully negotiated for the right for flexible hours and schedules.
Will the union force everyone to receive the exact same salary?
NO. There would be no reason to do that if no one wants it and nothing in a union contract stops anyone from asking for a raise. Local 2110 has never negotiated any contract which resulted in any employee’s pay being “leveled down” or cut. At MoMA, which has been unionized for years, there are a range of grade levels and titles. Everyone gets guaranteed increases and step raises, but base salaries depend upon level of responsibility, years of service, etc. In addition, the contract explicitly allows employees to ask for additional, discretionary merit increases.
It is very common to develop an agreement that can successfully accommodate employees with varying interests. Without a union, however, management can make unilateral changes in work rules, hours, pay or other working conditions.
What are union dues?
There are no dues until after a first contract is negotiated and voted into effect by a majority of the members. After that, union dues are 2% of your regular (gross) wages (excluding overtime) deducted from your paycheck. If you are paid weekly, dues are deducted weekly, if you are paid bi-weekly, dues are deducted bi-weekly, etc. Union dues pay for the cost of maintaining and supporting a strong union, e.g., legal costs, staffing, equipment, supplies, rent, etc.
Who is excluded from the union under the NLRA?
Managers who have policy-making authority for the Museum and supervisors who use their independent judgement to assign, hire, fire, promote, layoff, discipline, etc. (Note: Those who oversee vendors, temps, volunteers, independent contractors or interns who are not in the unit are not supervisors under federal labor law.) Having the word “Manager” or “Supervisor” in your title is not enough to exclude you from the right to unionize. Security guards can unionize but under labor law, they must be in a separate union from other employees.
Are unions really appropriate for Museum employees/professionals?
Unionizing is becoming more and more common in our field. Thousands of workers at museums and art organizations have formed unions or are in the process of organizing. Just recently, staff at the MFA Boston and the Portland Museum of Art (Maine) have organized a union. Across the country, unions are common among higher education professionals and in health care. Local 2110 already represents the staff of several museums and cultural institutions.
What about the existing unions at the Museum?
Many museums and universities have multiple unions that represent the different occupations at the institution. The union we are working with, Technical, Office and Professional Union of Local 2110 UAW, represents our counterparts at MoMA, New Museum, BAM, Tenement Museum, Children’s Museum of the Arts, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and has recently organized professional and non-professional administrative staff at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Maine PMA, and MASS MoCA. We look forward to working in solidarity with our colleagues who belong to other unions.
How does the vote work?
- After a strong majority of us—Whitney Museum staff—sign union support cards, we will petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a vote to take place among all who are eligible for inclusion in the unit. Signed union support cards are submitted to the NLRB and are not shown to management.
- It is likely that the NLRB will set a date and time for an election within a few weeks. The election, when scheduled, will either take place on the premises of the workplace, or will be by mail ballot. Either way, it is administered directly by the Labor Board. The employer is required to post an official notice from the NLRB about the date, time, and specific location for the vote.
- If a majority votes YES, our union will be certified by the NLRB, and Whitney Museum will be legally obligated to bargain in good faith with us for a union contract.
- Our next steps will then be to elect a bargaining committee from among ourselves, survey everyone on their ideas for improvements, and draw up proposals for a legally binding union contract. We will have the assistance and guidance of experienced Local 2110 representatives, who have bargained many union contracts. Once our union is certified, even before we agree upon a contract, the employer cannot make unilateral reductions in our terms and conditions of employment, e.g., try to lower benefits so we have to bargain them back.
Generally speaking, what does the negotiating process look like?
After reviewing employee surveys, current policies, the employee handbook, and other contracts for similar employee groups— as well as having conversations with members— the negotiating committee, composed of elected bargaining unit members, draws up initial contract proposals. The number of people on the negotiation committee is based on the number of people in the bargaining unit. These proposals are presented to members for feedback and approval before being presented to the Museum. The negotiating committee will be trained and assisted throughout the entire process by experienced Local 2110 staff. The final contract must be ratified by members before implementation; union dues are not incurred until after the contract is negotiated and approved by members.
What is the purpose of the negotiating committee?
The elected negotiating committee will draw up initial demands for a union contract, meet with the management to negotiate over these demands, and ultimately, make a recommendation to the membership on management’s final offer for a contract that will guarantee our compensation, benefits, job security, and workplace rights.
What kinds of things can we bargain for?
We can bargain for any term or condition of our employment, including compensation, benefits, workplace rights, etc. During the bargaining process, management cannot make any reductions in our conditions to try to force us to “bargain back” what we already had. Workers at MoMA, Columbia University, NYU, the New Museum, and other cultural and educational institutions within Local 2110 have made important gains in salary levels, promotion rights, job security, health benefits, and workplace rights.
How will we ensure everyone’s concerns and grievances are heard and considered in the negotiating process?
Everyone will be asked to fill out a survey and be as honest and thorough as possible in answering about their priorities. Members should attend union meetings, info sessions, and actions when called, so that executives are made aware of the importance of the contract to all. All members are encouraged to stay in touch with negotiating committee members, ask questions when you have them, and give feedback throughout the process. Negotiating a first contract is a huge responsibility that will require participation by all unit members.
How can a union contract accommodate so many different interests?
It is extremely common for a union contract to cover a variety of job titles across departments within an institution. For example, at MoMA, Local 2110 represents workers in the store, visitor services, curatorial, conservation, and administrative staff. Together, they have been successfully negotiating union contracts for decades, including provisions for wage increases, stronger benefits, and workplace protections.
What’s the obligation to bargain in “good faith”?
Although “good faith” bargaining will not require management to agree to any one particular proposal, it will require them to meet with elected union representatives, negotiate with them, offer compromises, and provide necessary and relevant information to assist the bargaining. Through “good faith” collective bargaining, staff at MoMA, the New-York Historical Society, Columbia University, the ACLU, and many other Local 2110 workplaces have achieved substantial improvements in their wages and benefits, and have established job rights and security that did not previously exist.
How long will it take to finalize a contract?
On average, it can take from 6 months to a year. The likelihood of negotiating a good contract in a shorter amount of time will be increased if the union membership is actively engaged in the process and make it clear through unified actions and articulated support for the negotiations that a fair offer is necessary.
After we ratify our contract, what happens next?
After the contract is ratified, we will elect a chairperson and delegates from among our unit to serve as stewards: they will ensure that management lives up to the provisions of the contract and offer support to all members with any problems that arise in the workplace. Disputes still happen, but ultimately the union will become an integral part of the workplace.