On Friday morning, the Guggenheim Museum in New York announced that it would furlough 92 employees because of the profound financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“All members of our community are now experiencing the sudden, unfathomable impact of the coronavirus outbreak across the world,” said Richard Armstrong, director of the museum, in a statement to ARTnews. “Despite the many temporary obstacles we now face, I am confident that we will come through this together, emerging newly united.”
Staff making more than $80,000 will take salary reductions on a graduated basis. A spokesperson for the museum said this decision will impact 85 employees. Leadership at the Guggenheim will also be taking pay cuts; Armstrong, for example, will see his salary decrease by 25 percent.
Like millions of businesses across the country, museums have saddled up to the sad reality that the Covid-19 outbreak had decimated their revenue sources and would probably slow the trickle of income for months to come, even after the crisis is under control and stores reopen. Over the last month, arts organizations have laid off thousands of employees, freelancers, and part-time workers in an effort to keep their budgets balanced.
The Guggenheim, which hopes to reopen in July, now projects a shortfall of $10 million because of the coronavirus pandemic. In his email to staff, Armstrong promised that workers impacted by furloughs will be paid through April 19, and any unused or accrued vacation time will be paid in a lump sum by May 1. Employees receiving healthcare will be covered until the date of rehire or July 31, whichever comes first.
Although furloughs were spread across the museum’s departments, a representative for the Guggenheim’s union said that 11 members of its bargaining unit have been affected.
Recent rounds of layoffs and furloughs in the New York art world have directly impacted unions, many of which are less than a year old. Earlier this month, the New Museum laid off or furloughed 48 staff members; 31 of those impacted were part of the downtown art institution’s union. Earlier this week, the art shipping company Uovo came under fire after six of its seven laid-off workers were ones who played key roles in the business’ recent unionization efforts. The decision prompted Teamsters Local 814 to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Uovo, claiming the company was using the virus as an excuse to get rid of pro-union workers.
“This means hard lives for workers, who are already doing their best to cope with a dangerous and challenging health environment,” Bryan Cook, a member of the union, told ARTnews. “We are all still employees, and we are all still fighting for fair compensation and safe working conditions. Nothing will change that.”