Art Gallery of Ontario workers strike: “More than just performance art!”

PV staff   

Over 400 workers at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) went on strike March 26, as they fight for a contract that provides decent wage increases and job security, particularly against contracting out of part-time positions.

The workers, members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 535, are employed in a range of jobs including assistant curators, archivists, food and hospitality staff, researchers, technicians, carpenters, electricians, instructors, designers and visitor services staff.

The union has been bargaining for ten months, but says the gallery is still “shortchanging long-term, loyal staff,” who were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and with the Ontario government’s Bill 124 which imposed a 1 percent cap on wages and benefits in the broader public sector. Through that same period, the AGO Foundation paid its CEO Stephan Jost over $390,000 in consulting fees between 2020 and 2021 alone – on top of his $406,000 salary.

“While we struggled through a public health crisis and three years of unconstitutional wage freezes, elite executives made hundreds of thousands,” said Local 535 president Paul Ayers. “We need a deal that helps us stay afloat in a cost-of-living crisis in the most expensive city in Canada – and the AGO’s latest offer falls short of that.”

OPSEU president JP Hornick said that “Many of these workers are artists in their own right that contribute to the cultural fabric of the city. Devaluing artists is not how we show the public that the arts matter – the AGO is sending the message that as a prominent cultural institution, it prioritizes the bottom line over peoples’ livelihood.”

Hornick warned the AGO that, “once workers strike, it’ll be more than just performance art.”

OPSEU is calling on community members to email CEO Stephan Jost and demand a fair deal for workers.

“Last time we checked, part-time workers still pay full-time rent,” says Ayers. “We need a deal that makes it possible to earn a living and secure your future while working at the AGO.”

[Photo: OPSEU X]

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