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"Do the Right Thing": Artists Urge New Museum to Allow Staff to Unionize

Above: The New Museum in New York. Photo: Julienne Schaer.
Above: The New Museum in New York. Photo: Julienne Schaer.

NEW YORK—More than fifty artists, curators, and educators have signed an open letter in solidarity with the employees of the New Museum in New York who have faced pushback from the institution’s management since they began the process of forming a union. The staff filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this month and are waiting for the union election to take place on Thursday, January 24.

The institution is currently working with the union-busting consulting firm Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan (ANHS) to dissuade workers from joining the collective bargaining unit. The firm brags of its 83 percent win rate in more than five hundred National Labor Relations Board cases on its website. Since it was hired, it has held meetings with heads of departments and employees who have recently been appointed as supervisors—a new title that staffers claim was given to them to make them ineligible to participate in the union—to present biased presentations about the dangers of unionizing and to suggest that the employees should be loyal to the museum.

Arts professionals are now speaking out in support of the staff’s efforts to organize. The open letter, which began circulating today, reads: “We are troubled by New Museum leadership’s decision to hire an anti-union firm to sow fear and hostility and to misinform both management and staff about the role of unions in the workplace. Intimidation and misinformation do not constitute open engagement with the Museum employees. Moreover, such behavior goes against everything that the Museum has historically stood for—that is, equity, diversity, and a commitment to institutional responsibility.”

It concludes with an appeal for the institution to “do the right thing” and not to interfere in the process. It also reminds the museum that its employees are people who believe in the institution and its future. The letter has been signed by artists Julie Ault, Hannah Black, Paul Chan, Liam Gillick, Juliana Huxtable, and Martha Rosler; as well as Andrea Fraser, professor and chair of the UCLA department of art; Fred Moten, professor at New York University; and Anton Vidokle, founder of e-flux; among others.

[Update:]

In response to the open letter, the New Museum issued the following statement at 6:54 PM:

New Museum was founded as a flexible and experimental space for cutting-edge artists and thinkers to express their views, including on the changing nature of museums.

This mission has served as a bedrock tenet of the New Museum and has guided our program for over forty years. Our employees make this work possible, and we value the creativity and input of the entire staff.

When we learned that a group of staff members had petitioned to unionize, we engaged several consultants, including ANHS, to provide an initial assessment and to guide us on working with employees who have multiple viewpoints on the issue. That engagement has concluded.

We respect our employees’ right to self-organize and will respect whatever decision they make.

We will continue to work together to advance the Museum’s special mission.

The open letter is republished in full below:

We stand in solidarity with the New Museum Union.

We are troubled by New Museum leadership’s decision to hire an anti-union firm to sow fear and hostility and to misinform both management and staff about the role of unions in the workplace. Intimidation and misinformation do not constitute open engagement with the Museum employees. Moreover, such behavior goes against everything that the Museum has historically stood for—that is, equity, diversity, and a commitment to institutional responsibility.

We implore New Museum leadership to do the right thing and allow their employees to form a union without interference. We also urge leadership to bargain with the New Museum Union in good faith for a fair contract. Your coworkers are not simply union supporters but devoted colleagues who deeply love and believe in the institution and are fully committed to its future.

Signed:

Julie Ault, artist

Andy Bichlbaum, the Yes Men

Claire Bishop, professor, Ph.D. program in art history, CUNY Graduate Center

Hannah Black, artist

Nayland Blake, artist, chair, ICP-Bard MFA

Jennifer Bolande, professor, new genres, UCLA department of art

Justin Vivian Bond, transgenre artist

Gregg Bordowitz, artist

A.K. Burns, artist

Paul Chan, artist

Howie Chen, curator

Liz Collins, artist

Leah DeVun, associate professor, Rutgers University (member, AAUP-AFT Local 06323)

Kimberly Drew, writer and independent curator

Andrea Fraser, professor and chair, UCLA department of art

Malik Gaines, artist

Liam Gillick, artist

The Guerrilla Girls, artists

Miguel Gutierrez, artist

Sharon Hayes, artist

House of Ladosha

Katherine Hubbard, artist

Juliana Huxtable, artist

David Joselit, distinguished professor, Ph.D. program in art history, CUNY Graduate Center

Alhena Katsof, curator

Jibade-Khalil Huffman, artist and writer

Nicole Killian, artist and assistant professor, Virginia Commonwealth University

Devin Kenny, artist

Kate Kraczon, curator

Molly Larkey, artist

Simon Leung, artist and professor of art, UC Irvine

Monica Majoli, artist and professor, UC Irvine

Yong Soon Min, professor emerita, UC Irvine

Fred Moten, professor, New York University

Carlos Motta, artist

Gala Porras-Kim, artist

R.H. Quaytman, artist

Halsey Rodman, artist; cochair of sculpture, Bard MFA; critic, Yale School of Art, painting and printmaking

Martha Rosler, artist

Alexandro Segade, artist

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, artist; visiting artist faculty, California Institute for the Arts and Bard Summer MFA

Gregory Sholette, Ph.D., professor, Queens College art department, CUNY

Patrick Staff, artist

Eric A. Stanley, assistant professor, gender and women’s studies, UC Berkeley

A.L. Steiner, artist

Eric Golo Stone, writer, artist, and curator

Lincoln Tobier, artist, Otis College of Art and Design/SEIU Local 721

Mariana Valencia, artist

Chris E. Vargas, artist

Anton Vidokle, artist; founder, e-flux

Matt Wolf, filmmaker

Yellow Jackets Collective

January 21, 2019