Dia Workers Join Union Wave

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Seeking better pay, benefits

More than 100 employees of the Dia Art Foundation, which operates a museum in Beacon and exhibition spaces in New York City and on Long Island, are seeking to join a recent wave of labor organizing at museums and cultural organizations. 

The UAW’s Technical, Office and Professional Union, Local 2110, announced on July 15 it had submitted organizing petitions to the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of 135 Dia employees, the first step toward holding a vote. 

Among the goals, according to the union, are higher pay and better benefits. 

A representative for Dia said the nonprofit recently raised its minimum wage by $1, to $16 an hour. At Dia:Chelsea, the starting pay for gallery attendants is $18 an hour. 

Despite the raise, “it still leaves us below a livable wage for a single person in Dutchess County,” said Joel Olzak, a gallery attendant at Dia:Beacon. “Dia’s development in Beacon has actually driven up the cost of housing here. Most of us can’t afford to live in the area — not on Dia wages.”

Dia said in a statement that it “supports our staff’s desire to consider and evaluate union representation. We remain committed to supporting all staff and we will work openly and cooperatively throughout this process.” 

Local 2110 UAW represents employees at the Guggenheim, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum. 

At the Guggenheim, the art handlers, maintenance workers and other staff voted in 2019 to join Local 2110. In October, they were joined by conservators and curators. Staff at the Brooklyn Museum voted in August to join. 

More recently, in May, educators, teachers and other employees at the American Museum of Natural History voted to have District Council 37 of the AFL-CIO represent them in labor negotiations.

In addition to higher pay and stronger job protections, Dia employees like Alex Vargo, who has worked in the foundation’s Learning and Engagement Department for seven years, say they are organizing because of a “lack of recognition.” 

“All workers at Dia contribute to making art accessible to the public, and unionizing recognizes the importance of our contributions and gives staff a greater collective voice in shaping Dia’s future,” she said. 

Museum employees are not the only workers opting to unionize. Between Oct. 1 and June 30, the number of petitions filed by workers seeking to organize rose by 58 percent — to 1,892 — compared to the same period a year earlier, the National Labor Relations Board reported on July 15. The board also said that charges for unfair labor practices rose by 16 percent, to 12,819.

Starbucks employees in Buffalo and in New York City have voted to form unions, and in April, workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island became the first at any of the company’s facilities to organize. On July 15, staff members for the state Senate, in a letter to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, announced that they had formed New York State Legislative Workers United.

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