Their union started the strike on April 28, 2000. The central issues involve salaries, healthcare, the threat of layoffs and union rights. The old contract expired October 31 1999. This is the first major strike at the museum since 1973. The Professional and Administrative Staff Association (PASTA), which is Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, represent the strikers. They comprise a varied workforce of administrative assistants, archivists, curators, conservators, graphic artists, librarians, salespeople, secretaries, visitors assistants and writers.
PASTA is one of six unions in the museum. The members of the other five bargaining units are continuing to work. The workers have rejected the museum’s offer of a three percent raise a year for three years, and is demanding five percent for the first year and four percent for the subsequent years in a five-year contract. The strikers believe that this demand is more than justified considering the very low wages they receive, which they say are even lower than what is paid in other museums for comparable work.
The median wage for the employees is $28,000 a year, and the starting salary for 40 of the workers is $17,000 a year which is nothing. Furthermore, the union says that the museum is refusing to maintain the employees’ health insurance and other benefits. PASTA maintains that MoMA has been very successful in its investments, and could easily afford a decent salary hike while maintaining benefits. The workers feel that their wages are being held down while the managers are more than amply compensated. Another issue provoking the strike is job security.
The museum is undergoing a $650 million expansion project for at least two years, and is planning relocate to Queens from its present location in Manhattan during that period of time. The union fears that the jobs of many of its members will be lost, and wants a guarantee that the workers will be able to return to their positions when the project is completed. The union is seeking a five-year contract in order to ensure that any job security clause will not expire before the project has been completed. This way everyone will know they have a job when they come back and not be in fear that they will be jobless. This is one of the major issues.
PASTA wants the museum to agree that all new workers be required to either join the union or, if they don’t join, be required to pay an equivalent monetary amount of the dues as an agency fee that goes to the union. At the same time, PASTA has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board charging the museum with not bargaining in good faith by attempting to bypass the union and negotiate with individual employees. The strike has forced the museum to cancel a fundraising event starring the singer Sheryl Crow. MoMA officials said that they did not want Ms. Crow or the ticket holders to have to cross a picket line, and refunded 450 tickets with prices ranging from $500 to $1,000 each!Other than this event, some workers on the picket line have stated that it is difficult for them to judge how many people they have managed to discourage from going into the museum.
MoMA officials are maintaining that the museum is running normally, and that ninety of the two hundred and sixty workers that are represented by the bargaining unit are working. Union officials dispute the claim that the strike is having no effect on the institution and say that only thirty workers are crossing the picket line. One striker, Ela Respina, a photographer with one year at the museum, said, Our salaries are quite low. MoMA is penny pitching on our wages.
The museum has made a lot of money in the last couple of years, and this is on public record. One problem is that all the other unions have contracts that expire at different times, and so they are working. The guards have a no-strike clause in their