WORCESTER, Mass. - Seventy-five percent of the staff of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art [Mass MoCA] was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic last spring.
Many were re-hired when the museum reopened and now, they're voting on whether or not to unionize.
Amanda Tobin, Mass MoCA Associate Director of Education, said, "That shutdown was really the impetus for finally getting going on something that had been talked about and whispered about for many years."
The museum staff would join the local branch of the United Auto Workers Union which represents other workers in the region, including at the M.F.A. in Boston.
Tobin said joining the union would provide greater job stability and better benefits. Tobin said, "You know, strength in numbers, right? So we can negotiate for things like job security, for recall rights if there were another round of layoffs. Union workers throughout the country, in many different industries, are usually better paid than non-unionized employees."
The management of Mass MoCA has pledged to stay neutral throughout the voting process.
In a statement, Mass MoCA said, "We have every reason to anticipate excellent labor-management relations," and initial conversations with union representatives "...have been positive and productive."
Should the staff vote to unionize, they would be the first museum in the Berkshires to do so.
Tobin, who's optimistic the vote will pass, hopes it will encourage others to follow.
"Wouldn't it be great if this was the start of a wave in the Berkshires? And I think so. I think many of us organizing think so. That this is a wave, not just nationally, but very locally as well," Tobin said.
The vote runs through April 27, and a live, public counting of the votes will be held on Zoom the afternoon of April 28.