Tuesday, March 21

A 20% salary increase ends almost 300 days of strike by the cleaners of the Guggenheim Museum

They started on June 11, 2021 with the hope that the stoppage would last only 10 days. More than nine months later and after 284 days of strike, the cleaning workers of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao announced this Monday the end of their protest with the signing of an agreement with the Ferrovial company that includes a 20% wage increase and the disappearance of partial contracts. With bottles of champagne, mops in the wind and dancing ‘The worker’s waltz’, the workers have celebrated the signing of the agreement as the greatest of victories.

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The workers had been protesting for months in front of the emblematic Bilbao museum, with two objectives: to achieve a new agreement that would improve their working conditions and to end the salary gap they suffered with respect to other cleaning workers in more masculinized sectors. The agreement reached -and that will be signed this Tuesday- includes both, in addition to a progressive increase that by 2024 will mean 20% more than the current salary -more than 23,500 euros gross- and the end of part-time.

Another key aspect of the protest was the conditions related to occupational health suffered by these workers as a result of the excessive workloads and rhythms of work. To put an end to this situation, as they have reported, the ELA union -the only one with representation among the workers- and the company have agreed to carry out “a study of measurement of times and workloads where the personnel necessary to carry out said tasks is determined. tasks with the quality standards and demands established by the museum”. In addition to this, the new agreement includes aspects related to access to the relief contract, as well as improvements in licenses, permits and breaks.

“We are satisfied, but it is true that we wanted something more. Regarding the economic issue, the rise seems little to us, but what we thought we were not going to achieve, we have achieved, which is the full day for the entire cleaning team”, explained the spokesperson for the staff, Carmen Casas, who He stressed that at the beginning of the strike, the contact between the company subcontracted by the museum and the workers “was zero”, but that over the months “steps have been taken little by little”.

One of the workers whose shift goes from being partial to full with the new agreement is Susana Marcos. “As of May 1, the workers who were part-time will become full-time. Personally, it’s a relief because working only 20 hours you couldn’t live, but you couldn’t combine it with another job either because the shifts were sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the morning. In this way we will have a salary with which we will make it to the end of the month and we will be able to organize ourselves better”, Marcos has indicated to this newspaper, although the workers have detailed that the salary increases contemplated by the new agreement will be produced through bonuses and not within the base salary.

The Guggenheim Museum, “detached” from the conflict

There are 18 museum cleaning workers, 13 of whom were in favor of the strike, while the remaining 5 continued to come in to clean. “13 of us have gone on strike, but the rest have continued cleaning. There has been a very great violation there, that has been the reason why the strike has lasted so long”, Casas acknowledged.

Regarding whether they have had any contact from the museum’s management, Casas has indicated that “they have wanted to completely disassociate themselves from the protest.” “The only thing we have had is complaints from them because we were using the image of the museum, but of course, we work here, what image are we going to use if we are cleaning the bathrooms of the museum? At the beginning we had two meetings with them, but then they didn’t want to know anything else, because they said that our problem was with the subcontractor”, explained the worker.

Idoia Teijo, who will celebrate her 6th anniversary as a cleaning worker at the Guggenheim Museum next June, has been proud of having defended her rights until the new agreement was reached, but she is aware that although the salary gap with respect to street cleaning workers has decreased, there is still a salary difference of more than 6,000 euros between them. “The highway is a sector that does not want women. There is some, but by protocol. It is very depressing that because you are a woman you do not have those opportunities, ”she has acknowledged.

Even so, she has wanted to recognize her effort and that of her colleagues and, despite the road that still remains to be traveled, she has celebrated the agreement as a victory. “In the end, a strike is difficult, because many things arise for better and for worse, but I am proud to have defended an improvement in my working conditions that did not satisfy me. I am proud to have defended the rights of women in the field of cleaning, who are very poorly paid and treated. Conciliation, due to the schedules we have, is also disastrous and we have a long battle in this regard that I am sure we will also win”, she concluded.