In recent years, a lot of well-researched and diligent journalistic work has gone into investigating the labor conditions that prop up large artistic institutions and museums. These stories, coupled with years of negotiations between workers and huge museums, have brought progress to an industry that still attempts to project an aura of moral faultlessness.
Last week, a local chapter of heating, ventilation and air conditioning professionals who work on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s three Manhattan campuses won a huge victory by nailing down a 63% pay increase for all workers. Practically speaking, this means that hourly pay for the Met’s HVAC museum employees will go from $22 to $35 an hour, and that newly-hired folks will see their annual salary increase from $45,760 to $72,800.
“We were very straight forward with management,” Local 1503 president Rawle Campbell told the DC 37 blog. “The solution is simple: Pay workers their worth and retention and other problems will go away. It’s still not the $42 industry prevailing pay rate, but when you consider the work we did to increase members’ wages, training and upgrades, and add the union benefits and pension package, HVAC workers at the Met are very happy!”
At institutions like the Met, the Met Breuer and the Cloisters, ventilation and diligent climate control are crucial aspects of the survival of countless priceless items. On a particularly hot summer day, one small hiccup in the system could mean the destruction of a delicate Renaissance masterpiece; a doomsday scenario that was likely at the fore of everyone’s mind as the HVAC employees advocated for better compensation.
“For about a year the Met Engineering Department had only 15 engineers, down from 35,” a representative named Dan McCabe told DC 37’s blog. “They frequently worked double shifts and at times triple shifts, six or seven days a week. Because the museum paid significantly lower wages, no one applied for the HVAC postings or they’d only stay a year and leave for better pay elsewhere.”
As museums dabble in more ambitious programming, it’s more essential than ever that workers’ needs are met. Institutions are only as healthy and successful as the people who work to prop them up.