The Potluck

Minneapolis Institute of Art workers overwhelmingly approve new union contract

By: - March 15, 2023 4:13 pm

Minneapolis Institute of Art workers picket outside the museum calling for higher wages on Feb. 16, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Workers at the Minneapolis Institute of Art voted by a 95% margin to ratify a new, two-and-a-half year contract on Tuesday, resolving the most contentious labor dispute at the museum in decades.

MIA’s 150 unionized curators and other staff will receive $4 per hour raises over the next 16 months in one of the largest economic gains for workers in the museum’s recent history.

“We’re really happy with the economic package we’ve won,” Aaron Barger, a systems administrator at MIA and member of the negotiating team. “Collective action gets the goods.”

A spokeswoman for MIA said the museum’s leaders were pleased to reach an agreement.

Last month, workers held an “informational picket” outside the museum in the first labor demonstration by workers in at least 25 years.

Workers, who are unionized with OPEIU Local 12, wanted 16% raises over two-and-a-half years to match inflation and make up for small raises in recent years. MIA offered 9% wage increases,  or 15% if the nine highest-paid curators were removed from the union.

The compromise on a straight dollar raise for all workers rather than a percentage increase is an unusual solution that will benefit the lowest earning workers most. Staff making $20 an hour will see their income increase 20%, for example, while the highest earners making around $60 an hour will receive about a 6% increase.

In the final agreement, the nine highest-paid curators stayed in the union but became salaried employees ineligible for overtime pay. Two additional curators were also added to the union.

The agreement also establishes that MIA’s managers won’t ask workers to take comp time instead of claiming overtime. Employees will receive time-and-a-half overtime pay for working more than 7.5 hours a day or 37.5 hours a week.

Under the contract, the museum will adopt a progressive discipline policy for the first time.

While the pandemic forced MIA to cut staff, its economic fortunes quickly changed and the museum now has a historic $38 million budget.

The curators at MIA were among the first museum workers in the country to unionize in the 1970s, decades ahead of a new generation of workers who in recent years have launched union drives at museums across the country, including the Minnesota Historical Society and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.