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Marciano Art Foundation settles with employees laid off during union drive

Workers protest outside the Marciano Art Foundation in 2019 with a sign that reads "Guess Who's Backing Out?"
Laid-off workers picket the Marciano Art Foundation in November.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

The Marciano Art Foundation has reached a private settlement with 70 visitor services associates who were abruptly laid off just days after announcing a union drive late last year.

The settlement will provide 10 weeks of severance pay to each laid-off employee.

“The settlement is the best decision,” says Lylwyn Esangga, an organizing director with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “These workers expressed a desire to form a union and improve working conditions. They have maintained a commitment to see justice.”

The Marciano did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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The Marciano Art Foundation opened in 2017 as L.A.'s newest center for culture. Its abrupt and mysterious closure came less than three years later. What happened?

The workers — public-facing staffers who watched over galleries and answered questions about art — had announced plans to unionize with AFSCME in early November over concerns related to wages and working conditions.

Days later, they were all laid off via email. The Marciano also announced it would shut down its galleries due to low attendance. A month later, the museum made the closure permanent.

At the time, organizers for AFSCME described the sudden shutdown as “an anti-union tactic” and filed an unfair labor practice charge against the museum with the National Labor Relations Board. (It is illegal for an employer to interfere with the process of unionization.)

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Employees also filed a class-action lawsuit against the museum. Earlier this year the various parties agreed to sort out the dispute via private mediation — reaching a settlement late last month. As part of that agreement, AFSCME will withdraw its unfair-labor-practice charge.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” says Kenneth Moffitt, a laid-off visitor services associate who served as named plaintiff on the class-action lawsuit. “I’m grateful on the one hand to be able to deliver something to the [visitor services associates] in the form of a little bit of compensation for what they experienced. At the same time, we aren’t getting our jobs back.”

A statement issued by the organizing committee of the Marciano Art Foundation Union said that the episode highlighted the state of museum-labor relations: “Their knee-jerk decision to lay us off instead of working with us provided a grim foretaste of boardroom decisions at museums nationwide that have stripped countless workers of their jobs, benefits and sense of belonging in the museum field.”

What will ultimately become of the Marciano Art Foundation and its historic building remains unknown. The museum’s website, marcianoartfoundation.org, is now blank.


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