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Local 126 members ratify first contract with L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art

Photo credit: Yin Kyi
Local 126 members ratify first contract with L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art
By District Council 36 ·
Tags: Momentum

Two years after Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) employees first unionized with AFSCME District Council 36, they have ratified their first contract.

The historic agreement brings major economic wins, including between a 15.25% and 20.35% raise over three years, vacation days for part-time and temporary employees, health insurance for part-time employees and a $250 stipend for uniforms.

“The biggest win would have to be getting a fair wage, especially for sales associates in the retail department,” said Ace Ubas, a retail coordinator and a Local 126 member. “Getting a fair wage for sales associates not only means a higher wage, but also no longer being the lowest paid position in the entire museum. Sales associates are public-facing employees that interact with visitors while also having the responsibility of selling merchandise and highly valued artwork.”

Non-economic wins include strong language on harassment, discrimination, health and safety, and performance evaluations. The Local 126 bargaining team also negotiated a robust grievance process.

The COVID-19 pandemic made negotiations difficult. Shortly after the pandemic began, MOCA laid off its workers. However, the workers fought to negotiate an agreement that said previously released workers would be given a first call back when MOCA rehired for the positions.

“After the layoffs at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people had moved on from MOCA,” said Ubas. “But the union only grew stronger when new employees were hired,” – and some older ones returned – “as the museum started to re-open. And to reach this point of having a contract really shows how all of our hard work has paid off. It's such an amazing feeling.”

There are now about 80 AFSCME workers at MOCA.

Throughout the negotiations, Local 126 members continued to bring awareness to their contract fight by passing out leaflets. The community stood in solidarity with union members. Community members helped push negotiations forward by reaching out to MOCA’s management, which resulted in management responding more quickly to proposals.”

Workers also won a stronger path for staff promotion, advancement and supplemental paid parental leave.

The members of Local 126 hope their victory will lead to industry-wide changes.

“Now, with a collective bargaining agreement, we are setting industry standards that we hope will lead to significant changes within all museums and cultural institutions,” Ubas said. “This collective bargaining agreement ensures MOCA workers are respected for our contributions to arts and culture so that we can continue the high level of service and accessibility to fine art for all communities.”

Local 126’s efforts were also truly an AFSCME family affair. Before MOCA’s new executive director, Johanna Burton, assumed her role, she helmed the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio. MOCA workers had written a letter to Burton prior to her arrival, welcoming her and demanding a fair contract.

Local 126 members were aided in their efforts by members of AFSCME Council 8, in Ohio, who hand-delivered the letter to Burton before she departed for Los Angeles. Upon seeing the collective action of their fellow museum workers in L.A., workers at the Wexner Center for the Arts decided to form a union, too.

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