February 11, 2019

Two Hundred Vancouver Art Gallery Workers Strike in Protest of Low Wages and Benefit Cuts

VANCOUVER, CANADA—On Tuesday and Wednesday, around two hundred staffers of Vancouver Art Gallery in Canada went on strike in protest of the museum’s wage policies and other parts of the administration’s proposed employment contracts. The workers, who are part of the Canadian Union of Public Employee’s Local 15 (CUPE15) and come from various sectors of the institution, including security, visitor services, and curatorial, have not had a contract since summer 2017.

The employees claim that the museum’s proposed wages remain below those of comparable Canadian galleries, and that they do not keep up with inflation. Another issue they raised is that the gallery intends to cut the “nine-day fortnight” perk, which allows workers to have flexible work schedules by working for nine hours for nine days and then having the tenth day off. The institution said that it would keep this option in place for those already employed, but does not plan on offering the benefit to new hires.

“Such a two-tier model is a tactic used to get unionized workers to vote against their own interest because it doesn’t affect them personally,” reads a letter from the union’s bargaining committee, published on Monday. “This proposal erodes our working conditions, undermines future generations of gallery workers, and sets a dangerous precedent for future attempts to undermine our rights.”

New York’s newly formed New Museum Union tweeted in solidarity with the strikers, while the Pacific Association of Artist Run Centers (PAARC), a Canadian nonprofit association of art organizations, released a statement in support of the gallery staffers, noting that executive salaries have tended to make above-inflation gains.

“Based on a 2017 Charitable Information Return on the Canada Revenue Agency’s registry, the gallery director received annual compensation of more than $350,000, while 202 of its 212-member staff receive compensation below $80,000 and are being offered insufficient wage increases,” PAARC said in the statement. “How can the public trust the Vancouver Art Gallery, especially as it embarks on the creation of a new building, if its leadership is out of touch with appropriate compensation for its workers?”

The gallery recently unveiled plans to construct a new $63 million Herzog & de Meuron–designed building, and received a landmark gift of $30 million from the Chan family in January.

A gallery spokesperson said that their proposed contracts were “fair and reasonable.” “The gallery very much values its unionized employees and appreciates all their contributions,” she said, adding that “there has been no rollback of benefits for its current team members and, in fact in many cases, benefits have been enhanced.”

Grant Arnold, a curator at the museum who is participating in the strike, told Artnews: “The frustration that precipitated the strike has been building for quite some time. The gallery’s employees are very dedicated to their work—it’s been almost forty years since they last went on strike.”

The Vancouver Art Gallery has remained open during the strike with a skeleton staff.

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