ago strike

One of Canada’s top galleries shut down as striking workers hit to picket line

As the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on March 26th, more than 400 cultural workers from the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) initiated strike action after voting to reject the latest offer from their employer. As a result, one of the country’s top art galleries is shut down until further notice.

Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO) Local 535 embarked on the labor disruption citing dissatisfaction with the proposed terms, particularly concerning wage increases and protections against precarious employment.

“As public service employees, we were hit right in the paycheck during the pandemic,” said Paul Ayers, president of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 535.  Ayers highlighted the disparity between the financial struggles faced by workers and the substantial compensations received by executive personnel. Ayers underscored the necessity for an agreement that addresses the cost-of-living challenges prevalent in one of Canada’s most expensive cities.

According to the union, negotiations spanning 10 months have failed to yield a satisfactory resolution, with the proposed terms deemed inadequate for long-serving employees. Various roles within the AGO, including assistant curators, archivists, hospitality staff, and technicians, are represented by members of Local 535, all seeking terms reflective of contemporary standards.

“Devaluing artists is not how we show the public that the arts matter,” said JP Hornick, president of OPSEU/SEFPO. Hornick said, AGO workers play a vital role in enriching the cultural landscape of the city and condemned the institution’s prioritization of financial considerations over the well-being of its workforce.

Last year, Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss donated $35 million to the AGO, which was pegged for a massive expansion.

“These workers keep the gallery lights on, the doors open, and the programming delivered,” Hornick added.

Despite the commencement of the strike, union members maintain hope for a resolution and urge the AGO to present an improved offer.

The union also help up AGO Foundation CEO Stephan Jost as an example of the disparity between gallery management and its workers.

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

Community support is solicited, with individuals encouraged to advocate for a fair agreement by contacting Jost.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO