Guggenheim Museum workers are now officially part of the Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, as of a 57-20 vote that took place Thursday evening.
The decision came after employees complained about being paid substantially lower wages than those employed at similar institutions, such as the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Guggenheim Director Richard Armstrong claims that the institution simply can’t afford to pay them the same wages.
“We provide very high-quality exhibitions, equal to or better than these other museums, but in terms of financial resources we cannot compete,” Armstrong said.
But not everyone buys Armstrong’s justification. Andres Puerta, Local 30’s director of special projects, argues that the Guggenheim has plenty of resources—it’s just that the institution just doesn’t allocate them properly.
“There are millions and millions of dollars flowing through the Guggenheim,” said Puerta. “The workers weren’t a priority but now we’re going to make them a priority.”
According to The New York Times, this is the Guggenheim’s first organized bargaining unit. One worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation, is confident that the newly formed union will bring about positive change.
“We feel really good,” the unnamed worker told ARTnews. “It’s rewarding to know that we’re finally on relatively equal footing with management at the museum.”
Others expressed dismay at the amount of resistance they faced from the museum’s leadership. According to Local 30 officials, Director Armstrong tried to dissuade workers from forming a union by warning them it would only inject divisiveness into the institution “on a daily basis.”
“The pushback by the Guggenheim was a surprise to me,” said art handler Eric Heist, who actively fought for unionization. “I thought they had seen this coming.”