The Museum Union Wave Timeline

Data on this timeline came from public records, secondary-source media accounts, and email or phone exchanges with union members and leaders, as well as from union and museum social media accounts and press releases. The figures given for union sizes and annual operating budgets do not reflect any cuts, layoffs, or furloughs implemented in the wake of the COVID–19 crisis.

In the months since the bulk of research for this project was completed, union efforts have gone public at the Milwaukee Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Portland Museum of Art, Maine; Meow Wolf, Santa Fe; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Film at Lincoln Center and Poets House, New York; and perhaps elsewhere.

No summary could be comprehensive, and this timeline certainly is not. Its relative accuracy owes a debt to the reporters who followed these stories on the ground and in real time. I am particularly grateful to Alex Greenberger at ARTnews; Ben Davis and Sarah Cascone at artnet news; Zachary Small, Benjamin Sutton, Valentina Di Liscia, and Hakim Bishara at Hyperallergic; and O.K. Fox and Lucia Love, co-hosts of the Art & Labor podcast.

This timeline was assembled by Maxwell Paparella for ART PAPERS. It was edited by Sarah Higgins, copyedited by Ed Hall, and fact-checked by Kyra Baker. The labors of EC Flamming were likewise essential to its completion.

The Museum Union Wave Institution Profiles

Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, NY
Union: UAW Local 2110; since 2019.
Representation: ±145 administrative workers and cinema staff.
Finances: As of 2018, endowment was >$97 million.

Frye Art Museum
Seattle, WA
Union: Art Workers Union; independent and unaffiliated since 2019.
Representation: 6 security guards.
Finances: CEO Joseph Rosa’s salary is >$229,000; trustees receive equivalent of $115/hr. for their “service.”

Guggenheim Museum
New York, NY
Union: IUOE Local 30; since 2019.
Representation: ±140 installers, maintenance workers, and art handlers.
Finances: As of 2020, the museum’s endowment is ±$90 million; as of 2019, director Richard Armstrong’s “compensation package” was worth $1.4 million.

Marciano Art Foundation
Los Angeles, CA
Union: AFSCME District Council 36; announced in 2019 but foundation closed before election could be held.
Representation: ±70 part-time visitor services workers.
Finances: Founders Maurice and Paul Marciano are 2 of 4 founders of the clothing brand Guess. As of
2015 they were worth $1.2 billion. Guess has been famous for union-busting since 1996, when it moved its factories from LA to Mexico and South America. In 2013, they bought the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple for $8 million, and in 2017 they opened the foundation.

Museum of Contemporary Art
Los Angeles, CA
Union: AFSCME; since 2019.
Representation: >120 workers from almost every department, including visitor engagement, education, exhibitions, communications, retail, and AV—but not curatorial.
Finances: As of 2020, the museum had an endowment of $137 million; management has declined to release director Klaus Biesenbach’s salary.

The New Children’s Museum
San Diego, CA
Union: IBEW Local 465; since 2019.
Representation: 48 hourly waged workers.
Finances: $4.8 million operating budget

New Museum
New York, NY
Union: UAW 2110; since 2019.
Representation: ±85 administrative staff, art handlers, front desk and gift shop workers. Finances: In 2016, the museum raised $43 million toward an $80 million capital campaign, earmarking money for expansion and tripling the size of its endowment. As of 2018, director Lisa Phillips’ salary was $764,738. In 2019 the museum announced a $20 million expansion project.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia, PA
Union: AFSCME District Council 47; union election scheduled July 2020.
Representation: A “supermajority” of museum workers from 20 departments.
Finances: In 2016 CEO Timothy Rub’s salary was $613,716. The museum is currently in the midst of a major capital campaign, with $473 million raised of its $525 million goal. In 2017 it undertook a $228 million expansion project.

The Shed
New York, NY
Union: UAW Local 2110; since 2019.
Representation: ±75 frontline staff referred to as VXA (visitor experience associates), including gallery assistants, greeters, ticket takers, ushers, and other part-time, hourly waged workers.
Finances: As of 2017, artistic director and CEO Alex Poots’ salary was $870,000; The Shed occupies a new $500 million building, which was sponsored by the city and built on public land.

Tenement Museum
New York, NY
Union: UAW Local 2110; since 2019.
Representation: ±75 visitor services, retail, advance sales, and education staff.
Finances: The museum’s annual budget is ±$11 million. They began an $8 million expansion project in 2016.

An expanded timeline is available below, including additional unionization efforts at —

Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA); Children’s Museum of the Arts (New York, NY); Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (Hartford, CT); Milwaukee Public Museum (Milwaukee, WI); MoMA PS1 (Queens, NY); Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA); Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver, BC, Canada).

Maxwell Paparella lives in New York City. His fiction and criticism have appeared in BOMBThe Brooklyn RailScreen Slate, and elsewhere.