Just days after dozens of its part-time employees announced a campaign to unionize, the Marciano Art Foundation, a private museum in Los Angeles founded by ARTnews Top 200 collectors Maurice and Paul Marciano in 2013, has laid off all of its visitor services associates, citing low attendance.
According to Eli Petzold, a member of the potential union’s organizing committee, the Marciano Art Foundation let go at least 60 employees via an email sent out on Tuesday evening. In the email, the museum said the reason for parting with its visitor services associates, who guard shows and interact with viewers, was “low attendance [over] the past few weeks.”
A Donna Huanca exhibition had been set to remain on view through the beginning of December. The Huanca show will continue through Wednesday, November 6—the last day that employees in the visitors services department will be employed, according to the email.
Asked for comment, a representative for the Marciano Art Foundation directed ARTnews to a statement that appears on the museum’s website that reads, in part, “The foundation will remain closed to the public until further notice.”
The layoffs come four days after employees at the museum said they were undertaking efforts to unionize. The potential union was calling for a new wage structure, arguing that the current rate docents and visitor services associates were being paid—$14.25, the minimum wage in Los Angeles—was too low. The employees were attempting to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 36, which also includes some employees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In a statement on social media, the potential union wrote, “This is a gross obstruction of workers’ rights. A complete disregard for its employees and their livelihoods.”
It was not immediately clear what role, if any, the move toward forming a union played in the museum’s decision to lay off some of its employees. According to the website of the National Labor Relations Board, a federal organization dedicated to workers’ rights, legal guidelines state that workers cannot be let go for attempting to unionize. On Wednesday, a charge against the Marciano Art Foundation was filed with the NLRB.
The union drive at the Marciano Art Foundation came as many museum workers have been unionizing in the United States. While most of these new unions have formed in New York, at institutions such as the New Museum and the Guggenheim Museum, they have also begun appearing beyond the city, notably at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.
No date has been given for when the Marciano, which opened in 2017, will reopen.