Visitor Center employees at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford have voted to unionize. It’s a trend among museum workers who look to unions not only for help with bread-and-butter issues like job security, but also to have a say in the museum’s future.
The nine workers unanimously voted to unionize earlier this month. They are represented by Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers.
“We wanted to make these sustainable positions with scheduled wage increases, transparency, and to have more voice in our conditions, to be able to keep these positions longer,” said Chelsea Farrell, interim visitor services coordinator at the Stowe Center.
Job security is a big issue for Farrell and her colleagues. Farrell is the only full-time employee in the new union. The rest are part-timers.
“You know when they leave work at the Stowe Center they are going to either second or third jobs,” said Farrell. “If this move to unionization can create a more sustainable position here at the Stowe Center, I think that would make huge positive change in everyone’s life.”
Maida Rosenstein is the president of Local 2110, which also represents employees at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum, among others. She said museum workers are turning to unions to address issues unique to their situation.
“Being able to negotiate some provisions for job security, that there’s good communication between center management and board and the workers themselves about any changes in the way the work is going to be structured and the way the organization is going to be structured,” said Rosenstein.
Having a say in the direction of the institution is important for museum employees who often see their work as mission-driven, according to Rosenstein. She said unions can help when an institution’s executive director or board considers changes in the mission that concern its workers.
“It’s an opportunity to be at the bargaining table to raise these bigger issues. And in a place like Harriet Beecher Stowe, we hope and think that the voice of the workers is going to be important and that the center is going to want to hear from people on these issues.”
The National Labor Relations Board certified the Stowe Center’s union last week. Farrell said she and her co-workers enjoyed a collective high-five after the certification.
“I feel immensely proud of my colleagues in the visitor center who have put in so much work to make this happen,” said Farrell. “With that being said, with all that work, I feel it is absolutely worth it, and this is without a doubt the right choice for us.”
Rosenstein says she looks forward to working with management at the Stowe Center to “find common ground and strengthen the center.”
In a statement, Stowe Center Executive Director Briann Greenfield, who was appointed in June 2018, writes, “As a nonprofit that has its roots in social justice, we were supportive of the visitor services staff having the right to unionize, and we respect this vote. The Stowe Center recently enacted a $15 minimum starting wage for all visitor services staff members, and we look forward to working with our employees in good faith to continue and enhance a positive workplace.”