Taking on the MFA’s corporate model

April 16, 2012

John Moore, treasurer of the Museum Independent Security Union, and Shaun Joseph report on the efforts by unionized guards at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to defend their jobs against the new focus on profits.

ABOUT 50 people attended a rally in front of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) on March 31 to support the Museum Independent Security Union (MISU) in its battle against the MFA's attempt to outsource its security force, a move with grave implications for the union's future.

Rank-and-file guards, some with more than 25 years of service, led protesters in chants of, "Hey, hey, MFA, union guards are here to stay!" and "Wanna save a million dollars? Outsource Malcolm Rogers!" Rogers is director of the MFA and notorious for imposing the museum's "corporate model" of management--including his own Wall Street-style compensation package that runs to nearly $800,000 annually.

The guards at the MFA are in a struggle for their union jobs. If the museum's subcontracting plan goes forward, members of the union would have to reapply for their jobs with whatever outside contractor the museum chooses. Museum negotiators openly admit that they don't want everybody coming back, claiming, "There are too many guards that are not up to snuff." Currently, the union protects guards from being fired for such vague and arbitrary reasons.

At the start of negotiations, the museum insisted on a one-year contract, instead of the standard three-year agreement. The bosses now say that they will agree to a three-year contract--provided that the contract can be reopened halfway through in order to bargain over outsourcing! Even if the union survives the transition to a subcontractor, whenever the contract with that subcontractor is up, the museum could choose another one and get rid of the union altogether.

The museum is also proposing contract language that would open guards' work to nonunion and even unpaid labor. The museum already has students, called "ambassadors," who patrol the hallways. In the past, the union has been assured that ambassadors are not doing security; management now demands that they be allowed to do so.

MISU represents about 100 workers (security guards are prevented from joining a union with other workers due to anti-worker U.S. labor laws). Nonetheless, the guards are prepared to fight and feel confident that they can stand strong in the face of the museum's demands for concessions.

The March 31 rally was MISU's second weekly rally. Guards from the highly multiracial union are also planning to participate in the Boston rally to demand justice for Trayvon Martin on April 7. Guards and their allies are organizing to step up the pressure on the museum in the coming days and weeks.

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