A diverse group of five MASS MoCA union members stand resolutely against a wrought-iron fence, each holding protest signs. From left to right: a man with a green 'UAW ON STRIKE' sign, a woman with a circular UAW sign, a young man with a 'UAW ON STRIKE UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE' sign, another person in sunglasses and red fringed pants, and a man with a sign stating 'FAIR WAGES NOW.
Union workers at MASS MoCA, exhibiting a range of styles and ages, unite in their call for 'FAIR WAGES NOW' during the strike; submitted photo.

MASS MoCA Staff Ratify Wage Agreement Ending Three Week Strike

Editor’s Note: The following article is derived from officially released information, published with few or no editorial changes. The Greylock Glass  occasionally provides our readers with such content if the information is factual in nature, and requires little to no interpretation or analysis, often when original reportage would not provide additional relevant information.

(See below for rough transcript, very rough, of our interview with Local 2110 UAW rep Chelsea Farrell.)

NORTH ADAMS — March 26, 2024 — Unionized staff of MASS MoCA, members of UAW Local 2110, voted today to ratify an agreement on wages that will end a three week strike.

The  Agreement will settle wages for the next two years.  58% of the unit, currently earning just $16.25 per hour will immediately be increased to at least $18 per hour. Full-time staff will receive general wage increases of 3.5% in each of the two years, and some workers will receive additional equity increases based on seniority and level of responsibility. Average pay for the unit will increase by 12.1% by the second year of the Agreement. The Agreement also includes additional holiday pay and establishes overtime pay for any shifts that last over ten hours in a day. 

The Union Bargaining Committee issued a statement, saying: “We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with the MASS MoCA that raises minimum pay rates and improves working conditions. We are looking forward to getting back to the jobs we love.” 

Hear our 2022 coverage of Local 2110 UAW’s one-day walkout.

NORTH ADAMS — March 6, 2024 — Unionized employees of MASS MoCA went on strike starting Wednesday, March 6 after no agreement on wages was reached with the Museum. Employees began picketing the Museum starting 8 am on Wednesday, March 6 and say they will picket daily until an agreement is reached.  

The employees’ union, part of Local 2110 UAW, was originally formed in April of 2021. After a one day strike in August of 2022, employees reached an agreement on a first contract which allowed them to re-open the agreement in October 2023 to negotiate further wage increases. Negotiations on the wage reopener have been ongoing for four months but no agreement has been reached. 

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of the 120 employees are earning just $16.25 per hour, according to the UAW. Average pay for full-time employees is $43,600.  According to The Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator, for a modes living in Berkshire County, a single individual with no children needs to earn approximately $47,000 per year while a family of four needs about $118,000. The Union is seeking to raise the hourly minimum rate to $18.25 by October of 2023 and is also seeking a minimum 4.5% increase this year. 

MASS MoCA sent out a March 1 email to union members characterizing its rejection of the Union’s offer: “The Museum cannot agree to terms that will diminish our mission or operational sustainability, upend vital partnerships, reduce our programs, or fundamentally change our creative workplace culture. Simply put, MASS MoCA has been and will continue to be moved to adopt proposals that are balanced, fair, sustainable, and honest.”

The Union says the difference between its and the Museum’s base wage proposal is only an additional $150,000 for this year, and that workers need the money just to make ends meet. Moreover, the Union asserts that the Museum has increased the number of higher-paid management positions at the expense of the unionized staff.

“MASS MoCA seems out of touch with our needs and concerns as employees,” said Meg Labbee, a 25 year employee of the Museum who works in Artists Services. “They say the arts and artists come first but they need to show some regard for the people who work here. We love the work but we deserve respect and fair conditions.”

MASS MoCA responded to a request for comment by e-mail, saying:

November 2023 marked the one-year anniversary of MASS MoCA’s 3-year contract with the UAW Union Local 2110. The institution says that it continues to promote both a spirit of optimism and a commitment to bargaining as a mutual responsibility. Since the wage negotiations reopened on October 1, MASS MoCA maintains that it has been engaging in negotiations in good faith, proposing wage adjustments for all employees.

On February 20, MASS MoCA presented its most significant offer to date at the bargaining table — retroactive to January 1, 2024 — which included a 3.5% across-the-board salary increase, select equity increases averaging over 5%, and a minimum hourly wage of $17.25. The museum notes that this proposal for the minimum wage is higher than any state-mandated minimum wage across the country and aligns with MASS MoCA’s focus on prioritizing wage and equity increases that have led to a 39.6% growth since 2018.

“We are extremely disappointed that the United Auto Workers union has decided to reject our wage increase offer by taking action against MASS MoCA in the form of an indefinite strike,” said Director Kristy Edmunds. “What so many people make beautifully possible here — year in and year out —  is the beating heart of why we exist as an arts organization. In the span of three years, we have implemented equity increases at every level, continued to stay ahead of the Commonwealth’s minimum wage, ensured no disruption in health and retirement benefits, and funded a variety of innovative employee support programs that include student loan, elder and child care offsets. At this post-pandemic juncture, we are building a future of financial resilience — including significant investments in our people — and cannot agree to contract terms that will diminish our ability to do so holistically.”

MASS MoCA’s complete response to the UAW action is detailed here.

Labbee, who is from the nearby town of Adams, adds, “Many of us live locally and our pay has not kept pace with the cost of living. By raising pay to something more livable, MASS MoCA would not only be supporting its employees, but helping lift the community, MASS MoCA’s rejection of our reasonable proposal has left us with no choice but to strike the institution we love.”

The March 6 strike deadline is not the first time bargaining with the Museum has been contentious. In 2022, during initial contract bargaining, the Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board over the Museum’s bad faith bargaining, and employees engaged in a one-day strike. Then, this past November, the Union filed a complaint against the Museum with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) when the Museum ordered workers to remove flooring contaminated with loose asbestos without proper equipment or training. OSHA has since issued test results  confirming the presence of asbestos, cited necessary corrections to the Museum and is conducting an ongoing investigation. 

In April 2021, the MASS MoCA staff voted overwhelmingly to unionize with UAW Local 2110. The bargaining unit includes approximately 120 employees who work as educators, curators, custodians, museum attendants, box office staff, art fabricators, technicians, and other administrative and professional staff. UAW Local 2110 is a technical, office and professional union that represents many museums and cultural institutions in the northeast including the Museum of Modern Art, the MFA, Boston, the Portland Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim, the Jewish Museum, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and other non-profit and educational institutions.

A determined group of seven MASS MoCA employees, displaying a spirit of camaraderie, stand side by side on a cloudy day. They hold a variety of signs with the UAW logo and messages like 'UAW ON STRIKE' and 'WE DESERVE A FAIR CONTRACT,' showcasing their collective bargaining efforts.
In the face of overcast skies, the resolve of MASS MoCA’s workers shines as they strike for equitable contracts, signs a testament to their solidarity; submitted photo.

NTRVW: Chelsea Farrell

Top Left Corner:  And with me on the line is Chelsea Farrell, representative of the local 2110 of the UAW. Welcome to the show, Chelsea.

Chelsea Farrell: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Top Left Corner: Well, I got your I got your your your message, about this potential action that’s going to take place starting 8 a.m. in front of MASS MoCA tomorrow morning. That’s a March 6th. Wednesday, March 6th. And I have to say, I’m not too, too surprised by it, but I haven’t heard a lot about it either. So let’s see if we can’t rewind a bit on a link to the coverage that I did in in 2021 of the forming of this union at MASS MoCA. But why don’t you give us bring us up to speed? Where where did this come from? And what’s the history here?

Chelsea Farrell: Yeah. So we formed a union a couple of years back, I think in May of 2021 now. And our union is, some folks refer to as a wall to wall unit. This means just about everybody who who isn’t a boss or a manager is included in our union. And this includes a lot of the very traditional museum titles, like educators, gallery attendants, curators, but also performing arts, art fabrication, buildings and grounds and custodial staff as well. I think forming the union back in 2021, it was it was really, I think, a part of this, this wave of museum unionization over these past couple of years where I think a lot of museum workers, especially in the light of the pandemic really understood how precarious and how vulnerable they were without union protection, so we did really see, especially in the Northeast, in New York an explosion of the union organizing. And folks at MASS MoCA, I think, were largely responding to a lot of those those issues that, again, were really crystallized by the pandemic. So, we entered our original contract negotiations, maybe six months after that. And I think as you’re, as you’re alluding to, it was it was a fairly tough road the first time where ultimately our union had to call for a one day strike in order to settle our first contract.

Chelsea Farrell: Which we did fortunately settle in November of 2022, and part of that contract was, each year of the contract, we agreed to reopen the contract and bargain exclusively over wages, and one of the reasons why we did agree to this was, frankly, MASS MoCA was unwilling to put enough on the table for the second and third years of the contract. So we did agree to, to reopen, and that’s that’s sort of where we are now as of October of last year. We’ve been in contract negotiations to, to get better wages and better conditions for folks at MASS MoCA and the negotiations themselves. They’ve been fairly slow moving, definitely very tense where, frankly, some of the museum’s offers were still lowball that they, they really didn’t even seem like realistic offers to us. And I think this wage negotiation is. It’s not just. You know, looking at the money on the table and what that means for people. But it is really colored by, I think, frankly, this question of union power and how where our union stands at MASS MoCA, because unfortunately, I think this strike is also a culmination of really anti-union, divisive tactics that we’ve seen from management over the.

Top Left Corner: Sure. Sure. Let’s start though. Let’s talk about some numbers. I want to get into the tactics. I want to get into the atmosphere and some of the other questionable activities of management. But let’s let’s give people a sense of what these numbers are. In your information, your documents, you say that 58% of the 120 employees are earning just $16.25 an hour. Break that down for us. And these mostly part time workers, full time workers, temporary workers. Who are these folks and what do these numbers mean?

Chelsea Farrell: Yeah. So these these folks at $16.25, it’s not just part time workers. There are full time workers at this level as well. And obviously this is really problematic. I think not just for the workers themselves, but for the museum field in total It’s it’s not unusual for museums to really operate off of a lot of low paid, frankly, very exploitative part time labor. That’s a really common model that unfortunately exists. So a lot of the folks in these positions, they’re they’re young folks maybe just out of college, folks who who are interested in the arts, interested in moving up in museums. And this is sort of this, this theater position, but at the same time, as I said, there’s there’s full time folks earning, earning this rate, right? So only $16.25 an hour, that’s that’s just over $30,000 a year. That’s really just not anywhere close to a livable or sustainable wage for folks.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. I mean, if we’re just talking about, say, rent, okay, in the area you can find, I have seen one bedrooms as low as 750 bucks in North Adams. Not saying you want to live in them. Because some of them are pretty, pretty dodgy. I would say that the average standard apartment, one bedroom apartment is going for around 1,200 bucks. I mean, and that’s even that’s pretty modest. That’s that’s nothing fancy. So 1,200 bucks already. That’s nearly half your your take home pay. So and that and I should I should point out many years ago, when I was young, the recommendation was that your rent should be or your, your living, your housing should be about one quarter your salary. Now, I’m hearing from people who are making things like 16.25 an hour that they’re paying half and sometimes more than half their, their wages on, on just a place to live.

Chelsea Farrell: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the housing cost is I mean, I think for most folks in the Berkshire County, they’re aware of this problem, but we hear it from members all the time that like, what what’s happening is that a lot of these single family homes are, or even multi-family homes are being converted to Airbnbs. Yeah. And people are being really priced out. And because of the limited housing stock, there’s nowhere for people to go that that’s affordable. We hear that all the time from members.

Top Left Corner: So yeah we’re not even talking about the food costs that keep going up and up and up and clothing costs and, well gas is not too bad now, but it was up there pretty high for a while. So yeah, there’s just an amazing amount of nothing left over at the end of the month on on pay like that. Let’s talk about the museum’s response. They sent out mass Moca, sent out a March 1st email to union members characterizing its rejection of the union’s offer. Quote, the museum cannot agree to terms that will diminish our mission or operational sustainability, upend vital partnerships, reduce our programs, or fundamentally change our creative workplace culture. Simply put, MASS MoCA has been and will continue to be moved to adopt proposals that are balanced, fair, sustainable and honest. And I’m going to take you at your word that this is an accurate quotation. And what do you say to that?

Chelsea Farrell: What can you say to that? You know the line that, I mean, there’s a few lines that that really sort of, I think stick with me and I think really, frankly, fall flat with membership as to how tone deaf the organization works. Sounds by by saying this, I mean even just like, again, this this question of sustainability. Please explain to me how these low wages are sustainable for the folks actually earning them. I really feel this statement is, frankly, tone deaf. And this on top of, again, what folks really feel as seeing on the ground is more and more over the past year and a half, two years, we’ve seen an increase of high level management positions, positions that are newly created, positions that did not exist before that are easily earning close to six figures, if not well over that. Right. And it to be told that ask here in the proposal is going to upend operations. It’s. I don’t know, it’s pretty offensive to hear because to us it’s it’s a clear, clear question of. You know, operational priorities. And certainly it’s a signal to me that the museum does not prioritize our workers.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. And of course, I want to I want to just note that very last word in that that response that there moved to adopt proposals that are proposals that are balanced, fair, sustainable and honest. That’s a kind of an odd word to throw at the end of that, as if there might be something dishonest about your proposal. I’m not sure what that would be. I think the facts at play here are their numbers. There’s no there’s no wiggle room, there’s no subjectivity. $16.25 an hour. And I say this a lot, and I know that some of my regular listeners probably are tired of hearing it. But when I was 16, back in, in the dark ages, I got paid. At this gas station that I. This is when you used to pump gas for people, you check the oil, check the air in the tires, all that jazz. Full service station. I got hired, and this was in Connecticut back in the 80s. And it was the minimum wage was four and a quarter an hour. Right. And my boss paid me $6 an hour, which I thought was great. Being 16. I thought that was fantastic, right? I said, but like, there’s another shop up the up the street that pays minimum wage.

Top Left Corner: I mean, I want the money, but why are you paying $1.75 more an hour? And he turned to me. He said, “Do you handle money all day long?” I said, yeah. He says, “Do I expect the drawer to equal out at the end of the at the end of the shift?” I said, yeah. He said “Do you have to give customer service? You have to be nice to people?” I said, yeah. “You have to know how to check oil, check transmission fluid, check air? You have to clean windshields if they ask you to it?” I said, yeah. He said, “Do you have to stand out in the hot sun in the summertime and in the winter, you know, when it’s freezing, all day shivering in your soaked feet?” He said, “Yeah, well, that’s not a minimum wage because you’re doing all these things.” Minimum wage. Then he pointed out, he drew my recollection to a fellow who basically pushed a broom in town. He was a World War Two vet, older guy, and he’d taken some shrapnel and he wasn’t ever going to be the same. So he had a job at minimum wage.

Top Left Corner: Of course, minimum wage didn’t even exist then, but he had a job at minimum wage, he said, because it was all he could really do, sort of push the broom and do an odd job here or there. But the minimum wage protected him, and it gave him an income so that his parents weren’t entirely dependent upon him. And when they were gone, he had something to keep a roof over his head. So that conception of minimum wage, I think, since the 70s, certainly has gone down and down and down and down to where it is the employers. It describes what the employer wants to pay, not what the work entails. Do you know what I’m saying? So a lot of these workers who are making $16.25 an hour, they have high levels of customer contact or visitor contact. They’re certainly responsible for maintaining either the security or the facilities of MASS MoCA. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff in there that it’s worth money, and so the idea that you would want to pay as close to 15 bucks an hour as possible seems to be missing the point of what minimum wage is meant to do. Thoughts?

Chelsea Farrell: Yeah, well it’s an interesting story to hear you tell. I hear a lot of offhanded remarks about the minimum wage. You’ve probably heard them yourself, “minimum wage, minimum work.” And this sort of idea that if you pay so low, you should the quality of work should. I think it’s an interesting, offhanded remark because, regardless of the work that you’re doing, obviously there’s dignity in all work, right? And everyone deserves a fair wage. Even if this $16.25 is  $1.25 over the minimum rate of 15, I think most folks would agree that 15 isn’t enough.

Top Left Corner: And in 2021 now. Yeah.

Chelsea Farrell: Right. Because, I mean, I think about the fight for 15, and the slogan of raise the minimum wage that. I mean, that slogan I feel like was maybe 2010, if not before then. Yeah, right. And states didn’t achieve that until just a couple of years ago, I think Massachusetts probably has one of the highest minimum rates in the country, but it obviously still is not a wage that is at all livable or sustainable for a single person.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. I mean, I’m looking at advertised jobs, say in convenience stores. I mean, I just was at the Stewart’s on the way into Pownal on Route Seven. They’re paying 18 bucks an hour to start. So, I mean, granted, you’ve got to scoop ice cream sometimes for eight hours at a clip, but still, I mean, they’re paying much more. You know, they’re paying $3 an hour more than minimum wage. And I can tell you that as as nice as most of the people are there, they don’t have to be. I mean, they can be pretty pretty deadpan and unfriendly if they want to be. And nothing happens to them. You you give bad service at a museum. People are going to hear about it. You’re going to going to get ripped.

Chelsea Farrell: I think too, to your point, $16.25, these are the folks leading the tours with the school children. These are the educators, right? So obviously, you’re not just letting people in the door. There is a significant amount of care and education and work that goes into these positions. And I mean, with that, I think, too, the folks at MASS MoCA, they do really care about their work. And they do want to do the best work that they can. It’s just that these wages do not actually show you their value and their contribution to the museum. Right. I don’t know, it’s just it’s unfair. It really is just an unfair situation. These folks are a lot of work is expected out of them. A lot of care, a lot of knowledge, a lot of training. And to be to be only paid 15, 25 to know that you could go down the street to Walmart and make more money. It hurts, you know, I think it really does hurt.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. And this is not to disparage anyone who works at Walmart’s or Stuart’s or anybody anywhere. This is just the fact that everybody has to keep a roof over their heads. So.

Chelsea Farrell: And I think, too, I mean it the reason why I think it hurts at an institution like MASS MoCA and other museums is that they really purport themselves to be like progressive institutions, or like more socially conscious or like, not corporate. And to see them rely on, if not the same, but in some cases worse practices than corporate tactics, corporate playbooks, it does really hurt.

Top Left Corner: That’s why I can never decide whether I can’t stand liberals or conservatives more, because at least when when it’s coming from conservatives, you expect it, right? But when it’s coming from at least it’s honest the. Yeah, exactly. When it’s coming from the nicey-nicey class, you’re like, oh, okay. So I don’t actually matter to you. So I just did the numbers here. And if you’ve got 120 people and I said that their average 30 hours a week, I don’t know if that’s anywhere close to true, but that’s somewhere between part time and full time, and they’re making an extra $2 an hour that works out to 7200 bucks a week. Is that going to break MASS MoCA, do you think? I mean, is that going to what do they say diminish their mission or operational sustainability? Do you think 70, 70, 200 bucks a week is going to is just going to be the, the straw 7200 straws that are going to break that camel’s back or what.

Chelsea Farrell: I’ll say I’m obviously not a mathematician, but by my calculations, the union’s proposal in the first year and management’s, it’s a difference of I think, $150,000, which I think is, maybe 1.5% of MASS MoCA’s operating budget. And, yeah, a worker at MASS MoCA just said to me the other day that’s he’s like, so if I have 100 bucks and you ask me for $1.50, I say, I don’t have that. He’s like, that’s what that means, right? And I was like, yeah, that’s it. And he just laughed. Right. Yeah. I think that’s like when you think about it in that sense, it’s somewhat laughable.

Top Left Corner: Well, it’s also I think it is comparable to the argument about why a flat tax is not a good idea. I mean, a lot of people say, well, it’s fair. Everybody pays the same percentage. Well, a tax 30% of the wages of somebody making $30,000 a year is is a huge chunk of their salary, whereas, and it really bites into things like, how much can they afford to spend on their kid’s shoes and clothes and things like that. But 30% of somebody who’s making $300,000 a year, sure, it’s a big chunk, but they can still eat, they can still easily make the car payment or the house payment. So when you’re saying you’re looking for two bucks an hour more. That makes a real difference in people’s lives. I mean, and it should. It’s almost it’s almost perverse. It’s almost there’s something perverse about it that if you’re working 40 hours a week, an extra $80 can can make your life that much easier. I mean, that’s, to me kind of twisted, frankly. I mean, 80 bucks is, for many, many people in a certain set in the arts and culture world, 80 bucks is, that’s not even their drink tab on a Friday night. They spend that on lunch. So I think that this notion that it’s going to break them. I find it highly suspect. What evidence have they given to show that they can’t afford this? Or are they just telling you they can’t afford it?

Chelsea Farrell: You know, I think again, MASS MoCA claims that they have been running a deficit in their operating budget for the past four years, and I think, look — No one at, I guess I should say no one in our union works at these these jobs at museums because they’re planning on getting rich, right? It’s like you work here because you care about the work. You care about the job, but to think that, again, that our proposal is going to, like, rupture the museum somehow. I agree with you. It’s it’s suspect. But, like, again, like, over these past year or so, it looks like money is going everywhere else. Instead of going to our members, it’s going to high paid management positions going here, it’s going there. And the last priority on the list is, is the union members. And that’s that’s really how it feels for folks. And that’s that’s how it looks. You know, and management doesn’t dispute that they have hired more management people. They claim it’s necessary. They claim they need it for the museum, but like at what cost?

Top Left Corner: Hmm. Yeah, it’s it’s funny when you talk about minimum wage and. You say? Well, but the mom and pop shops. Restaurants, gift shops, retail, independently owned joints, that they’ll be hurt if the minimum wage goes up. And it’s not untrue. I mean, there’s truth to that, but nobody thinks. And the answer is often, well, if they can’t afford to pay their workers a decent salary, then they shouldn’t be in business. I mean, that’s part of doing business, but people don’t seem to say that about things like about museums and educational institutions, it seems to be this. Well, we should give them a break because because they’re doing good work. And and I think it does really, really speak to the sort of lopsided opinion. Public opinion about what? You know. What the value is of having such a large employer. Downtown if it’s keeping people in poverty. I mean, because really we’re talking about either poverty or very, very close to poverty. And I’m not sure that the people who visit the museum want to think that. You know, it’s rice and beans every single night for for some of these employees. Ramen noodles. Let’s talk let’s switch gears back to this. A subject that you brought up a little while ago about their tactics and the atmosphere.

Top Left Corner: I know when I spoke with some people back in 2021, they wouldn’t go on record. This was especially true when it came to the issue of Covid 19 and the museum’s response to Covid 19 and, and how they dealt with the closure of the museum and paying employees and promises that were made. All this I’m sure you’ve heard all about it, but the the thing that struck me is that I couldn’t get. Almost any employees to talk on the record. They were terrified, and some of them told me they wouldn’t go on the record. So, I mean, here I’m just sort of throwing this out there with no actual documentation to back it up. But they were saying that they were afraid because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to get jobs anywhere in the arts if they spoke out. And to me, that was the thing that was really horrifying, that there was this self-censorship because they thought that if they stuck up for themselves about, the conditions and treatment at MASS MoCA that their careers could be jeopardized. So we know that there was that somehow they really put the fear of God into these workers. Talk about the the environment and talk about MASS MoCA’s tactics today.

Chelsea Farrell: Yeah. Yeah, that’s that’s really interesting to hear. And, just to to touch on that a little bit, as I said, like it was really during the pandemic that folks reached out to local 2110 wanting to organize. And I think a lot of a lot of workers in that same place. And it’s great when folks want to organize, want to move this forward. But it is usually like we need the union. Yesterday is generally the the mentality. Right, and so I certainly hope [this increases] the popularization of unions across the board in the country. But absolutely, the museum field helps dull that mentality that if you speak out, if you’re a part of your union, you’re not you’re not going to be blacklisted, so to speak, because obviously, especially in the museum field, unions are popping up everywhere these days, which is, which is really, really excellent, but in terms of what we’re seeing at MASS MoCA, I think again, like there’s this background, but this is all playing against, again, this idea that folks really feel like money is going elsewhere. It’s not going to care for workers. You know, more and more every week you’re seeing a new management position pop up. You’re seeing another position be filled that’s not in the unit. Right. So you’re seeing this constantly over the past two years, year and a half at this point, at the same time we’re seeing a distinct from a union standpoint.

Chelsea Farrell: You know, management really tried to obstruct and go around our union any time they can. You know, just about every grievance we’ve ever filed is just denied, and even in these grievance meetings, we ask questions and often management can answer them, but you can’t even have a conversation over what the grievance actually is. And I see it as a very clear tactic to sort of, frankly, make the grievance procedure a joke for people to think that it’s futile. It’s not actually going to change anything. And management doesn’t actually listen. Right? So, we see that going on all the while. And like, again, our union feels like it’s just been. You know, the runaround around us. They try to obstruct information. They don’t share information unless they’re explicitly asked, and then we get to the to the table and they have, frankly, a very anti-union outside negotiator who’s there, who I think has really done work to toxify the relationship. I also understand that they’ve recently retained, um, an attorney from Littler [Littler Mendelson P.C], which is a well known management firm. You might recognize them from being the firm that works at Starbucks. Right? So a firm that has a reputation of of being a union busting firm, to be blunt.

Top Left Corner: That’s really bad optics. I mean, those are just such bad optics. I mean, I cannot imagine why management and the board, let’s not let the board off the hook here, why they would allow an infamous, a notorious firm like that to represent them in these matters when it’s so clear what they’re trying to do. Unless they just don’t care. Unless they just figure people don’t care, and that it’s never going to change anything. Talk to me because I. I didn’t hear about this. I must not have been paying attention that week or that month for who knows, I don’t know. I’m looking at something having to do with loyal workers being asked to remove flooring tile, something that contained asbestos. And they were given no training. They were given no equipment. And OSHA has since issued test results confirming the presence of asbestos. What the heck happened there?

Chelsea Farrell: Yeah. And again, this is just another situation that I feel is really emblematic about how management feels about some of their workers here is, frankly, being expendable. Frankly, I think anyone who really knows anything about constructions, buildings and grounds, old buildings. There should be an obvious assumption with the with the building, with the facility as old at MASS MoCA, that if you’re going to pull out flooring, if you’re going to do work in the ceiling tiles that you better be sure that there is no asbestos there. Because just given the age of the building, it’s generally an assumption. You know, you go to the agency to herself. If the building is older than 1980, you should assume there’s a substance here.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. Asbestos and lead paint.

Chelsea Farrell: Right? Right. And this was a tenant operated space. I do want to be clear that the museum, the spaces to the public have been remediated have been surveyed. I don’t want folks thinking that they’re going to visit MASS MoCA and be exposed. So I do want to be very clear about that. But our workers were tasked to go in and remove floor tiles. You know, we understand even some workers raised suspicions that you’re not sure we should do this, and it wasn’t until a worker did finally reach out to the union… obviously we reacted immediately. Ask them to stop and filed a complaint with OSHA, who’s currently conducting an investigation, but OSHA, of course, found that none of the buildings and grounds staff were even given a basic asbestos awareness training, and so MASS MoCA has to at least comply with that.

Top Left Corner: It’s just inconceivable, to to quote Wally, they’re inconceivable. 

Top Left Corner: Yeah. I mean, these are the sorts of things where they suggest anyway that. That management at MASS MoCA just doesn’t take the union seriously. And doesn’t seem to think that. I mean, as you said, they try to get around the union every chance they get. That’s somebody who doesn’t take it seriously. I’ll tell another little anecdote. My father worked in manufacturing, and he was he was in management. He’d worked his way up from the shop floor. One day he took me in. On a Saturday. I guess you wonder, was a take take your kid to work Saturday and this real. Tough. Middle aged, just massively huge muscled black guy came over to my father and started calling him racial epithets for Hispanic. And then they laughed and then they hugged each other. And I thought that was really weird. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be ready to run or defend my father or something, but turns out that the guy was the union steward and they had a relationship. And this is slightly different climate, manufacturing in the 70s versus museums in the 21st century. But the the idea here was I had heard my father talk about this guy at the dinner table and the things that he would call him after a tough day of negotiations or just him busting his, you know, he was talking about how the union is busting his stones all the time.

Top Left Corner: And. I said on the way home in the car, I said, I thought you hated him because they were laughing and talking and everything. I thought she hated him. He said, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t ever mistake what I have to do to to support my company with his value, making sure that the people who work there get what’s coming to them, get their due. And I was so confused about that until probably I was an adult anyway, how you could have such  two different whole two different truths and have and both of them be true that you can understand that the union is there and necessary, because my father clearly understood that, but you know that you have to fight them all the time. It doesn’t sound like the former mentality exists over there, because maybe it’s because the union hasn’t been there long enough for it to be sort of baked in to the to the organization. Do you get a sense that things are better, at least in terms of massmoca accepting the fact that the union is here to stay? Or do you think there’s still kind of a denial?

Chelsea Farrell: I think they are still kind of in denial. And I will say like I. It’s definitely my experience that, even if you’re not necessarily like in negotiations that are amicable and even if you are like yelling and frustrated with one another, it doesn’t mean that like relations between the union and management have to be like acrimonious and terrible. You know, they could still be honest and truthful, right? You can still obviously get very heated on these things. And I just feel like, for MASS MoCA to go back to that, that comment on your word, honest it. You know, there’s very few folks in management that I feel are honest dealers. You know, it does always feel like they are trying to get the one up. It does always feel like they’re not actually trying to negotiate in good faith. It feels like they’re trying to they’re trying to trick you, and I do think it is because they not only do they not take the union seriously, but they they don’t want the union there. And this goes to, I think, like as I mentioned, I understand they’re working with, they’ve recently retained an attorney from Littler. I don’t know how much that costs. You know, I really don’t. But to think that MASS MoCA is willing to put into the bad investment to pay for an attorney from Littler, what that says to me is that they’re willing to put in that investment to weaken the union, so they don’t have to take the union seriously so they can bust it so they can go around it, as opposed to putting in that investment to to the staff who actually make the organization run.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, I’m guessing that it’s probably costing more. And this is just a guess to retain Littler. Then it will. Would to just pay that $150,000 a year? Maybe. I mean, I’m just I’m just thinking. Because really, what what’s going on here is, is. Is. I mean, anytime there’s this real struggle to keep the union out or to to crush it or to weaken it so that it doesn’t have the, the impact that it should. I mean, the whole point is that you want to make sure that. Not just that you have control over what you’re paying your employees, but you’re having control over everything that there’s nothing that the union is ever going to be able to say about choices that management makes, and that’s really what they’re paying littler for. They’re paying littler not just for the extra to try to stave off paying extra an extra two bucks an hour. They’re basically if they can win, then the union has been dealt a blow. And that blow will cause people to question whether or not the union has the sufficient strength to represent them. And that’s always the fear, right? Because when the nurses at Berkshire Health Systems went on strike, and this was a couple of years before that, I think it was like 2017 or 18 or something. They did not succeed. And of course, since then there has been just a wave of nursing unionization all over the state and all over the country. But Massachusetts especially has been just really I mean, nurses in, in medical institutions everywhere are just voting to unionize.

Top Left Corner: So let’s talk a little bit about what might happen after. After tomorrow, you’ve got a one day strike in the in the cooker. And what do you hope that will do? And if it doesn’t succeed in achieving those results, what next?

Chelsea Farrell: So just to clarify, it’s not a one day it’s an all out strike. Okay. We’re calling for, how you sort of just summed up like, how you see management’s position of trying to just deal blows to the union to make them so weak, frankly, like, discourage folks. I, I think that’s that’s really to what’s going on with this strike as well. Like obviously the it’s only the economics directly on the table. But I think I said this earlier, it is really a question of where our unions stands at the organization and our demand to be taken seriously and to have our workers taken seriously and know that that manage has to deal with us. Right. So, obviously we want to see this settled. You know, you don’t organize a union to go on strike. You organize a union to get a contract. You know, we want to get this settled. Folks want to go to work. You know, striking. Striking is a really serious sacrifice, but I do hope that it the contributions and the values of our members is very obvious starting day one. And pressures the museum to give us a fair offer.

Top Left Corner: Well, I can tell you that this global warming may not be good for much, but at least it’s going to give you some decent weather for for for striking tomorrow. When I, when you last struck back in 2021, it was a one day and I know that The GreylockGlass.com’s official pizza, Christo’s pizza — and they have been our official pizza ever since this day — they sent over pizzas to help feed people over on the line. If people want to do that, should they do that? Should they be prepared? Be prepared to do that tomorrow. Send pizza. Coffee? What do you think? What could people do to sort of encourage and support? Go ahead.

Chelsea Farrell: I will say for the first day of the strike, some union supporters, actually, former union members have already donated Christo’s Pizza to the line. And I understand Christo’s threw in a few free solidarity pies. So Duncan’s great. They’re still they’re still doing the good work for us. But we are planning for each week a seven day picket, but a good place for folks to go if they do want to get information is our Instagram page, which our handle is @MASSMMoCAUnion. There’s information there about the picket, but also information for pledges and a hardship fund as well for folks to donate, if they can, to the hardship fund, but also like information about how to donate food or other supplies to the line.But anything folks want to bring by — food, water is absolutely appreciated, because we are, as I said, obviously, we want to settle, but we are prepared to be out there for the long haul.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. I am sorry I made the mistake about thinking it was a one day. I guess I was reading about the 2021 strike and that stuck in my head. So yeah, this is one of those things where it can get grueling and people can really end up in a situation where, I mean, because it’s an endurance game. I mean, it really, it’s like a siege, except that you’re on the outside, but you’re still the one being sieged because it’s the aristocracy on the inside, on the top floor, on the management floor that is deciding how long you’re going to sit out there. I mean, ultimately, it’s a battle of wills and being able to, to count on your community as as people did in the stop and shop and the strike against stop and shop back in. I can’t remember when that was. Very few people crossed that line to go stop and shop and stop and shop. It was it was really an intensely gratifying thing to see. And I don’t even think that those stop and shop workers were prepared to see that level of community support. So perhaps we’ll have that this year as well.

Chelsea Farrell: I certainly hopeful hope so. I mean, I always think this is true about our membership. You know, they really do have the upper hand in that because they absolutely not only are the community themselves, but they have, there’s enormous community support for our union and even just the visitors to the museum were out there a lot leafleting, sharing information. And like folks are usually shocked to hear about the conditions and very, very supportive of our workers. And I mean, again, I think that’s true about unions across the board and strikes across the board. You know, the the UAW strike in Detroit a few months ago, I think I saw a poll that 75% of Americans supported the striking workers, which is pretty incredible. So, I mean, I think not just for MASS MoCA workers who support, but there’s a lot of growing support for workers across the board.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. It’s it took a while. I mean, it definitely took a while. The. And we’re not there yet. I mean, I think it’s still only about 15% of Americans excluding civil service police, things like that are unionized. So a long way to go. But it is growing. And who knows, maybe we can get maybe we can get Joe Biden to show up on the line and show his support for for museum workers. We can we can give him a call and see what he see, what his schedule will allow. That’s probably not something he’s going to do, because, yes.

Chelsea Farrell: Hey, feel free to reach out if you got a number. Right.

Top Left Corner: Um, yeah. I’ll just ask his press people. From what I understand, he’s actually not even publishing his schedule anymore. He’s he’s having something of a tough time every time he goes out in public these days. So probably hanging out on Holden Street is not not a up his alley. No, but you never know. So anyway, I’ll put the link to your Instagram in the show notes, and I’ll put, I’ll put a very, very rough transcription of this.  I’ll reach out to to MASS MoCA as well, the last back in 2021, they had no comment, and I assume they’re going to have no comment as well this time. 

Top Left Corner: Well, Chelsea, it has been a real pleasure. If I can get down there tomorrow, I will I will get down there and snap some pictures I went to the challenge of that is that I was paying for my existence and this news organization by driving Uber from about 11 p.m. till dawn and then working on the newspaper all day. I hit a deer back just before Christmas last year, and since then I’ve had no car, and I’ve been working on trying to solve that problem. But it ain’t easy. So if I don’t show up, it’s literally because I just can’t get there in a convenient way. There is a bus, I think once an hour. But that’s that’s something of a challenge. 

Chelsea Farrell: We’ll be out there, we’ll be out there more than one day. So.

Top Left Corner: That’s right. That’s right. I’m sure I could probably, maybe I can get an Uber to take me down there because they’re trying to get unionized too, right. So who can say? I mean.

Chelsea Farrell: That’s I mean, that’s another conversation, but that’s a pretty, pretty atrocious system, I can.

Top Left Corner: Tell. Hey, listen, I lived it for a year. I can tell you anything you want to know. That could be a conversation that you and I have when we’re sitting there on the line looking for something to do. Sounds good. 

Top Left Corner: Hey, again. Thank you. I’ll send you a link when this show is live. And hey. In solidarity.

Chelsea Farrell: Thanks a lot.

Top Left Corner: Bye bye.

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125

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