After seven months, the workers of Storm King Art Center, in New York’s Hudson Valley, have successfully organized. The institution voluntarily recognized the new union, following a lengthy negotiation process and two elections, one in-person at the museum on April 27, and an online vote for the visitor services department on May 23.
A total of 68 workers at the popular New Windsor sculpture park, home to monumental works by the likes of Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, and Maya Lin, are now part of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Local 1000, an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
“We fully support our employees’ right to choose whether to form a union,” a Storm King spokesperson told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email, noting that at the time of the second vote, “the paperwork to voluntarily recognize the new bargaining unit was already complete, enabling us to move forward, without delay, toward collective bargaining. We remain committed to negotiating in good faith with the staff.”
“We are thrilled to welcome the workers of Storm King Art Center into our CSEA family,” CSEA southern region president Anthony M. Adamo said in a statement. “Not only do these workers have the support of their fellow CSEA members in the Hudson Valley and across New York State, they are also part of a strong coalition within our international union AFSCME known as Cultural Workers United, which allows them to connect and collaborate with other cultural workers organizing their workplaces.”
Other museums with AFSCME units include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where a wall-to-wall union, formed in 2020, reached a contract agreement in October following a 19-day strike.
The nation’s ranks of unionized museums and arts institutions have swelled in recent years, especially since 2020. Storm King workers began organizing last August, following the announcement of a $45 campus revamp, expected to be completed in 2024, the Art Newspaper reported.
“We started seeing art museums across the country organizing,” Marques Villaronga, a Storm King visitor services worker, told the Times Union in December, “and realized that we could make that happen here, too.”
Storm King union leaders wrote a letter to the organization’s president, John P. Stern, on October 25, 2022, stating that the majority of eligible staff had signed cards indicating they were in favor of joining CSEA.
The institution did not immediately recognize the union, opting instead to put the matter to a vote among workers, and hiring Klein, Zelman, Rothermel, Jacobs and Schess LLP, a New York law firm that specializes in “union avoidance,” among other things.
In March, union members launched an Action Network campaign asking supporters to email the Storm King board of trustees and demand they meet with the union’s organizing committee.
The call to action accused Storm King of “hiring a union busting attorney to delay us for months” and “tak[ing] advantage of the [National Labor Relations Board] process to challenge the eligibility of visitor services and museum store staff to be together in an inclusive wall-to-wall union.”
In April, just ahead of its first vote, Storm King union leaders met with New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who voiced her support of their organizing efforts.
I was in Rockland County talking with local labor leaders about the fight to pass the #PROAct and protect unions and working families.
I’m proud to stand with the workers at Storm King Art Center who will vote this week to unionize. When unions win, American families win! pic.twitter.com/Zs13RHY4Xm
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (@gillibrandny) April 25, 2023
That initial union vote, conducted on the Storm King grounds, excluded visitor service staff following a NLRB ruling that those workers were security guards, and thus should be in a separate bargaining unit. The union appealed, and visitors services workers—who do not have New York State’s required security guard license—were able to participate in an online vote on ElectionBuddy.com. The measure passed with a supermajority.
The organizing efforts had begun with the visitor services staff, who make just $17.50 an hour, and work without holiday pay on days that office staff get paid vacation.
“For visitor services, we don’t get time off,” Amber Bowen, an employee in the department, told the Cornwall Local late last year. “We don’t have health benefits, dental, or vision. The only time off we get is mandated by New York State—one hour per 30 hours worked. For full time staff, they want minimum shift laws and not to be required to come in just for an hour, especially since some drive an hour to get to work.”
The newly recognized union’s goals include improved wages and benefits—especially for those in part time or “seasonal” roles—stable schedules, and improvements in workplace safety and health, among other issues.
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