Visitor services employees at Los Angeles’s Marciano Art Foundation announced their intention to unionize last week. On Tuesday, museum management announced they were laying all of them off.
According to the Los Angeles Times, employees received an email reading: “Effective Thursday, Nov. 7 we will be laying off all the Visitor Services Associates. You will be receiving your final pay via Direct Deposit on Thursday, Nov. 7.” The museum also announced it would be closing its current exhibitions, which included works by Yayoi Kusama and Nicolas Party, early due to low attendance, and that the museum would be closed until further notice.
When the workers first took steps to unionize by filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, the museum seemed sympathetic. In a statement quoted by the L.A. Times, the Marciano Foundation said: “As an organization we are supportive of all recommendations to improve the workplace experience and will give this careful attention as we begin our discussions.” The workers were most concerned with issues related to low wages, job security, family leave, and scheduling.
The Marciano staff are far from the first arts workers to try to unionize recently: Guggenheim Museum employees voted to form a union in June, while New Museum workers unionized in January. And although the Marciano Art Foundation attributed its actions to declining visitor numbers, Lylwyn Esangga, an organizing director at the union working with Marciano employees, told the L.A. Times the layoffs were “an anti-union tactic.” The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from denying their employees the right to unionize.
The Marciano Foundation was founded by brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano, who also created the worldwide clothing brand Guess. The museum opened its doors in 2017 and is located in a former Masonic temple on Wilshire Boulevard.
The Marciano Art Foundation will not reopen. In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, the foundation said it has “no present plans to reopen.”