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Inside the Brooklyn Museum Union's Protest of the VIP Artists' Ball

The Brooklyn Museum Union gathered outside of the museum's VIP Artists Ball to protest working conditions.
Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Google Street View.

During the Brooklyn Museum's annual VIP Artists' Ball on April 26, the museum's union employees staged a protest demanding better working conditions, reports The Collector. The union, which represents the museum's front-facing employees, such as security guards, ticket takers and ushers, expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in negotiations with the museum's management.

The protest was organized by the Brooklyn Museum Union, which had previously been negotiating with the museum's management. The union had been pushing for a new contract that included wage increases, health benefits and job security for their members, who had been working without a contract since 2018, the union claimed. Despite repeated attempts to negotiate with the museum's management, the union had made little progress in their talks, which led to the protest, the union said.

"The Brooklyn Museum wants to weaken our union," the union said in a statement.

In just over two years of negotiations, there has been progress only in terms of health insurance. The museum is not taking adequate steps on economic issues, the union claimed.  And in recent contracts, the museum presented information about a 9% increase in wages, which is significantly less than what other art institutions give.

“The Museum is reducing union positions and creating higher paid positions that it refuses to include in our union. These are obvious attempts to undercut our bargaining power and weaken our union,” the union wrote.

The protest took place outside the museum's entrance and was attended by dozens of union members, who chanted slogans and held signs demanding better working conditions.

The protest caught the attention of visitors attending the VIP Artists' Ball, including some prominent artists, who expressed their solidarity with the union's cause. And while there were no resentments directed at the ball's honoree, renowned photographer Carrie Mae Weems, union members thought that the Weems would respect their struggle for a fair workplace as she had previously participated in the labor movement as a union leader.

“We hope that this [protest] will open some of the eyes of the artists here. Wages are stagnant, and that even though we all love working here, we love art —people are frustrated,” said Owen O’Brien, head of individual giving and initiatives at the museum. 

The union negotiators continue to aim to reach a contract as colleagues at other New York institutions recently have.


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