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News / January 30, 2019

Vancouver Art Gallery Staff Give Notice to Strike

Gallery workers have been without a contract since 2017. The earliest staff could strike would likely be during the week of February 4
A view of the Vancouver Art Gallery's current building / photo Iwona Kellie via Flickr / Creative Commons A view of the Vancouver Art Gallery's current building / photo Iwona Kellie via Flickr / Creative Commons
A view of the Vancouver Art Gallery's current building / photo Iwona Kellie via Flickr / Creative Commons A view of the Vancouver Art Gallery's current building / photo Iwona Kellie via Flickr / Creative Commons

More than 200 workers could potentially be going on strike soon at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

CUPE Local 15 served the gallery administration with a strike notice on January 28 “in response to Gallery managers’ refusal to move from significant concession demands,” says a CUPE release. The earliest staff could strike would be during the week of February 4.

In response to a request for comment on the strike motion, a Vancouver Art Gallery spokesperson provided the following statement: “The Vancouver Art Gallery continues to engage in a collaborative and respectful bargaining process with CUPE15 as both sides work towards a new collective agreement.”

The Vancouver Art Gallery statement continued, “Monetary discussions are ongoing and we are continuing the bargaining process in good faith as we all work towards an agreement that will benefit both parties.”

At issue, says CUPE15 president Warren Williams, are problems around two-tier staffing, low worker wages and gallery negotiation delays—“We served them with notice to bargain in 2017, and it’s only in the last eight months we have been at the table,” Williams tells Canadian Art.

Williams also says that wages at the Vancouver Art Gallery are lower than in the rest of the Canadian gallery sector: “In some cases, they are up to three dollars an hour lower,” says Williams. “They’re even below smaller galleries here in BC.”

The strike motion was served just days after the Vancouver Art Gallery announced a $40 million gift from the Chan family.

Williams says that soon after that major gift announcement, the gallery, in negotiation, offered cost of living increases of 0% for 2017, 0% for 2018, 1% for 2019 and 1% for 2020—with a 2% additional applying after signing of contract in 2019. “For me, that is pretty insulting,” Williams says.

The Vancouver Art Gallery is currently working toward the funding and building of a new Herzog & de Meuron–designed gallery to open in 2023. A gallery release has stated that among other advantages for the city, the new gallery would be “a major tourism destination, employer, and economic driver.”

The Vancouver Art Gallery is also currently awaiting $50 million from BC’s NDP-led government toward that new gallery structure. Lisa Beare, the province’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, rejected that $50 million disbursement in late 2017, citing the gallery’s need to raise some private capital first. Beare is also  a former vice-president of CUPE 4078.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is news and special sections editor at Canadian Art. She has also written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. She welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.