Art Market

Employees of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art announced plans to unionize.

Wallace Ludel
Nov 25, 2019 5:20PM, via Los Angeles Times

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Photo by Rob Young, via Wikimedia Commons.

More than 120 employees of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) announced plans to unionize last week. This marks the latest unionization effort from an art institution staff after a string of similar campaigns around the country. Employees of the New Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Seattle’s Frye Art Museum have all successfully achieved new union contracts. Workers at art handling company UOVO also attempted to form a union, but ultimately voted not to after weeks of contention.

The MOCA announcement comes only three weeks after Los Angeles’s Marciano Foundation laid off nearly six dozen employees who had planned to unionize, before abruptly closing its doors indefinitely. The Marciano Foundation cited “low attendance” as the reason behind its unforeseen shuttering, despite the museum being free to enter. There is currently no contemporary art space in Los Angeles that has successfully unionized.

In addition to filing an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board, more than 50 employees from nearly every department at MOCA presented management with a statement of intent on Friday morning. According to the Los Angeles Times, the statement read:

In order to fulfill MOCA’s civic responsibility, we call on you to not only consider your duty to the community through improvements for the audience, but to afford the same sentiments toward the workers who actively embody the primary mission of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

This most likely alludes to a statement made recently by museum director Klaus Biesenbach following the announcement that MOCA would offer free admission starting in January. In his statement about the new admission policy, Biesenbach said that the downtown L.A. art space sees itself “as a civic institution, as a public institution, as a resident among residents, as part of the communities we live in.”

According to the L.A. Times, MOCA released a statement saying:

While we respect the right of employees to decide whether or not they wish to be represented by a union, we do not believe that this union is in the best interest of our employees or the museum.

If their union drive is successful, the MOCA workers will join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, one of the largest labor organizations in the United States.

Wallace Ludel