Making Choices at MOMA

A Strike Divides the Staff at Museum

Vacations start at four weeks and rise to six with seniority. There is an old-fashioned, defined-benefit pension plan, and health coverage is currently fully paid for by the employer.

"They are trying to shift the responsibility [for health benefits] onto us," said Sarah Landreth, an employee in the museum's development office.

Strikers also said they were worried about layoffs when the museum launches its $650 million expansion project next year, which will include the temporary closing of its Manhattan site.

Outside MOMA: a 10-foot tall inflatable rat backs up a museum striker.
photo: Brian Finke
Outside MOMA: a 10-foot tall inflatable rat backs up a museum striker.

"What [MOMA director] Glenn Lowry wants is a new museum with no union in it," said striker Cary Levine.

Also on the list of demands, said local president Maida Rosenstein, was the need to become an "agency shop," where union membership is optional, but dues mandatory. Such a setup is one step below a "closed" or "union shop," where all workers must join, but gives the union more clout.

"What the museum would like is to keep us a nice little unit doing 'courtesy bargaining,' " said Rosenstein.

Batterman said the museum, faced with rising costs, needed the right to change its health benefits plan, if necessary. But Batterman said the museum has offered the alternative of a new plan, administered jointly by the union and the museum. He said the museum has also offered severance pay and the right to return at the end of the construction project to those who are laid off.

The real stumbling block for the union, Batterman said, is the museum's "open shop" status. "My belief is that if we gave them an agency shop we would settle everything."

Striker Mary Corliss, who has worked at the museum since 1967 and said she had relied on the health plan through two bouts with cancer, disagreed. "This is not about a closed shop or agency shop," she said. "This is about maintaining a level of health care for people who make $28,000 a year."

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