High-knowledge, low-wage workers at Marciano Art Foundation announce union drive
Visitor services staff at the Marciano Art Foundation went public with a campaign to unionize on Friday evening after announcing that 85% of the museum’s services staff signed cards with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. The union represents services employees at more than a dozen museums around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Detroit Historical Society.
The union would represent almost six dozen Marciano visitor services associates — the attendants who watch over the galleries and answer questions about art — as well as docents (who lead tours) and floor leads (a more senior level of visitor service associate).
“We take seriously our role as the foundation’s public face, showing up each day with our enthusiasm, knowledge, curiosity, and humor,” read a statement delivered by the union’s organizing committee to museum management Friday evening. “United by this belief in the dignity of our work, we’re coming together in one voice, so that we can effectively advocate for changes that will make the foundation a more sustainable and equitable institution for all of its employees.”
Three dozen members of the services staff presented their petition to management, requesting that the foundation voluntarily recognize their union.
“We highly value the work and contributions offered by our Visitor Services Associates and look forward to engaging with them to learn more about their requests,” read a statement issued by the museum in response to the petition. “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 unionization campaign was motivated by issues related to scheduling, family leave, job security and wages. Currently a visitor services associate at the Marciano earns $14.25 per hour, the minimum wage in the city of Los Angeles for organizations with more than 26 employees. All of the visitors services positions are part time at the museum, which is free to the public.
The wages are low given the demands of the job, says Eli Petzold, a visitor associate who serves as a member of the union’s organizing committee — noting that associates are required to have knowledge of art history and the museum’s collection in order to be accepted for employment.
“In order to have this job you have to have a certain amount of knowledge,” he says. “It’s people who have gone to school.”
As a result, turnover in these positions can be high.
“It’s common for people who are working there to want to leave because they need to be able to live an adult life in Los Angeles, where the cost of living is high,” says Spencer Longo, a floor lead who is also a member of the union’s organizing committee. “They are not able to get the stability that they need on minimum wage.”
If successful, the staff at the Marciano, opened in 2017 by Guess co-founders Paul and Maurice Marciano, would be just the second museum in Los Angeles to join AFSCME. The union currently represents about 100 services and maintenance employees at the Museum of Tolerance.
This announcement follows labor campaigns at the Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego, along with more high-profile institutions, such as the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.
The campaign at the Marciano does not include curatorial staff.
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