As art workers across the United States clamor for higher wages and more benefits, a wave of museums has seen their employees form unions. What began in New York with successfully formed unions at the New Museum and the Guggenheim Museum has now officially arrived in Los Angeles.
About 50 workers at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles have announced plans to form a union. In a release posted to the group’s Instagram, the potential union said it was seeking “fair compensation for all workers throughout the museum,” which earlier this week detailed plans to enact a new admission fee structure in January.
“We recognize that management has identified a need to shift workplace culture in order to make equity, diversity, and accessibility a greater priority,” the group said in the release. “So far, however, this has been a top-down structure that has involved spending undisclosed amounts of money on external consultants who speak on behalf of the entire staff. Instead of looking outside the museum for answers, we ask that leadership listen to its own workers and hear our needs directly.”
In a statement, a representative for the museum said, “While we respect the right of employees to decide whether or not they wish to be represented by a union, we do not believe that this union is in the best interest of our employees or the museum.”
MOCA’s new admissions structure will offer free general admission, thanks to a $10 million gift from Carolyn Clark Powers, president of the museum’s board. Fees to enter special exhibitions will increase, however, from $15 to $18.
The museum is now the second Los Angeles arts institution this month whose staff has begun the process of unionizing. The Marciano Art Foundation’s employees also launched a campaign to unionize, only to see the art space, founded by Guess owners Maurice and Paul Marciano in 2013, lay off at least 60 of them, citing “low attendance”; it then shuttered, with “no present plans to reopen.” (On social media, former workers at the Marciano Art Foundation have teased a nationwide protest against the space’s closure at Guess stores across the nation.)
The push to unionize at MOCA can be seen as part of a larger movement taking hold in the American art world now. Since employees at the New Museum in New York formed a union earlier this year, workers at the Guggenheim Museum, the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and elsewhere have launched campaigns to unionize.