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Entertainment & Arts

Marciano Art Foundation lays off visitor associates days after union drive is announced

Marciano Art Foundation
The Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Days after visitors services employees at the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles announced they intended to form a union, they were told by management on Tuesday they would be laid off.

A tersely worded email sent to employees at 6:13 p.m. Tuesday stated that attendance was low and that the museum would be closing its current exhibition effective Wednesday.

“Effective Thursday, Nov. 7 we will be laying off all the Visitor Services Associates,” read the email. “You will be receiving your final pay via Direct Deposit on Thursday, Nov. 7.”

In response to a query from The Times, the museum issued a statement: “Due to low attendance the past few weeks Marciano Art Foundation will be closing the current exhibition early on Nov. 6 after a five-month run. The foundation will remain closed to the public until further notice.”

Visitor services associates at Paul and Maurice Marciano’s L.A. museum are unionizing. They’re the docents and gallery attendants who answer art questions.
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Eli Petzold, who works as a visitor services employee at the museum and serves as a member of the union’s organizing committee, said he was in shock by the news.

“I was caught totally off guard,” he said via telephoneTuesday. “This is illegal and we are going to make very clear that this is not OK to do.”

Lylwyn Esangga, an organizing director at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union working with the Marciano employees, said it would fight the move.

“This is an anti-union tactic and the workers at the Marciano are prepared to fight back,” she said.

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The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from interfering with the right to organize.

Petzold said attendance had been low, but that it had recently picked up.

Maurice Marciano and Philipp Kaiser
Maurice Marciano, left, founder of the Marciano Art Foundation, with curator Philipp Kaiser, in 2017.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Visitors services employees had announced on Friday that they intended to form a union with AFSCME over issues related to scheduling, family leave, job security and wages.

Petzold, who had helped lead the organizing effort, said he was surprised by the layoffs given the cordial public statement issued by the museum. “The comment they gave,” says Petzold, “was about being eager to hear from their employees and about their environment.”

A statement issued by the museum said that, “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.”

Petzold says the nearly six dozen staffers who intended to unionize will regroup to plot their next move.

“My immediate concern,” he said, “is the fact that people have lost their jobs.”

The Marciano, on Wilshire Boulevard, opened in 2017 and was founded by blue jeans magnates Paul and Maurice Marciano, founders of Guess.

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AFSCME represents unionized museum workers at more than a dozen institutions around the country.


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