By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
After more than a year of negotiations, Local 1503 resolved long-standing wage and retention issues, resulting in an unprecedented 63 percent pay hike for licensed heating and ventilation workers at three New York City museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Met Breuer and the Met Cloisters.
“We were very straight forward with management,” Local 1503 President Rawle Campbell said. “The solution is simple: Pay workers their worth and retention and other problems will go away,”
Union negotiators convinced Met managers to raise the starting pay for licensed HVAC assistant maintainers to $35 from $22 an hour. The annual salary for new hires is now $72,800, up from $45,760. Seven senior HVAC engineers will earn about $81,000. A 22 percent wage hike increases HVAC Supervisors’ earnings to $86,000 a year.
News of the wage boosts drew cheers at a recent membership meeting.
“This is a major win,” Campbell said. “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!”
The 2-million square foot Metropolitan Museum of Art houses vast collections dating back 5,000 years. Climate control is vital to preserve centuries-old artifacts gathered from civilizations around the world and for the comfort of the museum’s almost six million visitors and 1,800 employees.
“For about a year the Met Engineering Dept. had only 15 engineers, down from 35,” said Council Rep Dan McCabe. “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.”
The Met’s retention problems peaked in 2017, which pushed museum management into crisis mode.
“Management floated the idea of contracting out the work, which DC 37 opposed,” Campbell recalled. “That’s when we said, ‘Let’s brainstorm. You’ve got to raise wages to attract and retain licensed HVAC workers.’”
The agreement also provides for 14 new positions and a title upgrade to HVAC Engineer Level A, and advanced training and testing specific to operating the institution’s massive ventilation system.