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Mass MoCA Strikers See Possible Movement in Talks
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
07:55PM / Thursday, March 14, 2024
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The union members have been on the picket line since March 6, mostly during the museum's hours of operation. They say management isn't offering a fair wage; the museum says its prioritized wage and equity growth

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The music was nearly drowned out by the honking of horns as motorists signaled their support to the picket line at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Thursday. 

Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers went out on strike nine days ago after negotiations over wages broke down with museum administration. The union is seeking to raise the hourly minimum rate to $18.25 back to October 2023 and a minimum 4.5 percent increase this year. 
Mass MoCA says it's last best best offer is a 3.5 percent across the board along with equity increases and a minimum wage of $17.25 retroactive to Jan. 1. 
"Right now we do have some tentative talk going on," said union member Michael Boucher, who's worked at the museum for six years. "So we're just waiting to hear a little bit more about it. But we don't want to disclose anything."
Local 2110 represents 125 full- and part-time employees in a variety of positions. The workers joined the UAW in 2021 and held a one-day strike back in August 2022 for pay raises. They reached an agreement with the nonprofit museum to re-open the contract last October to negotiate further wage increases. 
Boucher said the community has been very supportive and members of other unions had come to walk the picket line. The strikers have been on Marshall Street largely during the museum's business hours. 
"We are getting a lot of support from all the restaurants in North Adams. Lickety-Split inside, they're doing a wonderful job. Christo's Pizza, they're just fantastic supporters," he said. "We'll see what happens. Hopefully, that we get some positive news and then we can let that out."
Meghan Labbee, chair of the local delegates, had attended the City Council meeting on Tuesday to apprise the council on what was happening at the museum. At that time, she said the museum had made no further attempts at talks since the strike began. 
"We negotiated for about five months on our wage reopener on our year two contract," said Labbee. "So we've been negotiating since October now."
The parking lot at MoCA has been sparser than usual but the strikers say they have not prevented anyone from going into the museum or onto the campus. 
Amy Chen, a graphic designer who's also been at the museum for six years, said the workers are feeling strong and united.
"I think it's going really well right now. Yeah, the vibe has been really great and [we're] getting so many community support and artists' support and just seeing everyone here every day has been really, really nice. 
"I feel like I haven't never felt closer to my colleagues."
Chen said she's one of the workers who is getting a higher wage but that the percentage MoCA proposed for all of them, "it's not enough."
Looking over at the parking lot, where a security person was keeping watch, Chen said it was "bittersweet" to see fewer cars there. But she added, "they really need to start caring about their employees more."
The union says the average annual wage for its members is $43,600 a year, nearly $4,000 below the cost of living calculated by the Economic Policy Institute for Berkshire County. More than half its members earn $16.25 an hour and that MoCA is proposing a $1 more, for a total $35,880 a year for the lowest wage earners. 
"It's just been so nice to see people supporting us and seeing on Instagram as well like people from other unions, museum unions as well," Chen said. "That people have like driven down here to go on the picket line with us was really great."
She, too, said the community and especially the restaurants and brewery on the museum campus have been very supportive "even though their restaurants have been taking a hit. Shout out to them."
A Lickety-Split employee acknowledged that customer traffic was down. "We're doing OK," she said. "But it could be better."
Mariah Forstmann, co-owner of Casita with her husband, Justin, said it's been a little weird crossing a picket line every day. Especially as they have friends on the picket line and friends still working inside. 
"We hope that they get resolution soon because it's hurting Lickety-Split, it's hurting Big Daddy's, it's hurting us," she said. "We're encouraging people who are afraid to or don't want to cross the picket line, or don't feel comfortable with it or want to respect the union to come after 5 and visit us when museum's closed."
Forstmann is hoping the new restaurant can navigate through the "sticky situation." 
"We come to work with a smile on our face, honk our horns and then pull into the parking," she said. 
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