Art Gallery of Ontario’s Workers Strike, Forcing Museum to Close

Hundreds of workers at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) recently went on strike in an effort to obtain higher wages in one of Canada’s most expensive cities.

After ten months of bargaining, members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO) Local 535 officially went on strike on March 26 after rejecting the museum’s latest offer.

The union said AGO’s “last” offer failed to provide a livable wage and include protections against contracting out for part-time workers, which make up 60 percent of the museum’s staff.

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Event setup coordinator Mark Thornberry has worked at the museum for 15 years, but said wages at the museum are not keeping up with rapid increases in the cost of living in Toronto. “It’s terrible at the moment. It’s rock bottom, and hat’s tough because people love working at the Art Gallery of Ontario,” Thornberry told CBC News. “It seems more and more that the employer doesn’t care about them.”

OPSEU local president Paul Ayers says public service employees struggled through the Covid-19 pandemic and three years of wage freezes, and cannot afford to keep up with inflation.

“The AGO Foundation paid out its CEO, Stephan Jost, over $390,000 in ‘consulting’ fees between 2020 and 2021 alone – on top of his $406,000 salary,” Ayers said in a press statement. “Yet there’s no money for wages? The gallery can absolutely afford to bring forward a better offer.” 

In an emailed statement, AGO spokesperson Andrea-Jo Wilson told ARTnews, “The AGO is hopeful that we will reach a negotiated agreement with OPSEU soon. The museum remains ready to negotiate and fully available to work constructively with employee representatives to reach a reasonable and fair agreement. When operations resume, updates will be published at”

The workers strike also follows the AGO’s recent announcement of a major expansion expected to cost $100 million CAD ($740 million). The five-floor, 40,000-square-foot expansion, devoted to modern and contemporary art, will be named after Canada Goose founder Dani Reiss, who donated $35 million CAD ($25.9 million). The Canadian government has also invested $25 million CAD ($18.5 million).

The museum’s latest audited financial statements ending on March 31, 2023 show a deficit of $3.8 million CAD ($2.86 million). While administrative expenses went down from the previous year, costs for food and beverage and art acquisitions (both gifted and purchased) significantly rose from the previous fiscal year.

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