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AGO strike: "Shiny Building, Shabby Wages"

Michelle Robidoux

April 6, 2024

On March 26th, 400 workers at the Art Gallery of Ontario walked out after rejecting management's latest offer which failed to address key issues such as low wages and protection against contracting out.

The strikers, members of OPSEU Local 535, are food and hospitality workers, assistant curators, archivists, visitor service staff, electricians, carpenters and more. Over 60% of these workers are precarious, part-time workers.

Paul Ayers, president of Local 535, said: "Last time we checked, part-time workers still pay full-time rent. We need a deal that makes it possible to earn a living and secure your future while working at the AGO."

While many AGO workers struggle to make ends meet, CEO Stephan Jost raked in over $390,000 in 'consulting fees' between 2020 and 2021, on top of his salary of over $400,000. AGO execs are reported to have received salary bonuses of up to 59.6%.

And while AGO nickels-and-dimes its workers, it is building a huge $100 million expansion to showcase contemporary art. Strikers have highlighted these glaring contradictions with placards that read "Modern Art, Medieval Wages" and "Shiny Building, Shabby Wages".

At Queen's Park, NDP MPP Jill Andrew spoke about the strikers: "They helped raise funds for the AGO’s new building, they clean the gallery but are struggling to pay rent and buy food." She also linked the issues in the strike to the Ontario government's underfunding of the AGO: "Because of their hard work the AGO has become a world class destination. And yet this government hasn’t increased the AGO’s budget in over ten years.”

The secret of the AGO's success is the labour of the workers who design, install and maintain its exhibitions. Instead of pouring millions into exec bonuses and glitzy new construction, the AGO needs to invest in these workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

The lively picket lines have showcased the determination and creativity of AGO workers, many of whom are artists. Join the line at 317 Dundas Street West, and email CEO Stephan Jost and demand a fair deal for workers:


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