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Art gallery workers against austerity

Pam Johnson

April 25, 2014

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) workers, OPSEU local 535, are fighting concessions: two- tier wages, benefits cuts, forced overtime, aggressive policing of sick time and loss of fulltime jobs in current contract negotiation with the AGO.
Recent AGO offerings highlighting political artists including Chinese dissident artist, Ai Wei Wei, and revolutionary artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, have been hugely successful. But, any notion that this progressive sentiment extends to AGO workers would be false.
“Staff are deeply committed to the work we do at the AGO. But these jobs are being steadily downgraded through contracting out, cutting full-time positions, reducing hours and shifts,” said Jane Lott, OPSEU Local 535 President. Four full-time and two part-time positions were recently cut in the food and beverage department and have now been contracted out. Part-time work now accounts for two-thirds of the staff positions and many full time positions are non-permanent. OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said, “The reputation of the AGO is at stake here. Being a good workplace is part of being a respected world-class institution.”
According to one AGO worker, “It’s like Downton Abbey working here.” He referred to the huge disparity between management and workers. Thirty-one managers made the 2014 sunshine list including AGO Executive Director, Matthew Teitelbaum, who made a whopping $280,000 in 2013. Management hires are spiking even as employee jobs are cut, outsourced and casualized, following the trend in the public sector as a whole. In one department at the AGO there are three managers and one employee! This management-heavy skew puts resources at the top taking them away from workers and public services and eroding the power of the union through attrition.  
May 2 is the legal strike deadline, and the AGO workers are organizing an information picket on Thursday, May 1, 630-1130pm at 250 Dundas St W. The picket coincides with the opening of a new exhibition and is also the international day for celebration of labour and workers rights! They are calling for the support of labour and community members. For more information visit
If you like this article, register for Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis, a weekend-long conference June 14-15 in Toronto. Sessions include “Taking on anti-union threats in Ontario and Quebec,” “Worker’s power: Canada’s radical labour history,” “The fight for workers rights,” and “Rosa Luxemburg and the mass strike.”

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