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The entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Employees Squeezed Out as MCA Chicago Converts Part-Time Jobs to Full-Time [Updated]

In its first restructuring move since the pandemic began, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will consolidate 28 part-time visitor-experience positions to 8 full-time positions, resulting in the loss of 20 jobs.

The conversions are meant to lend more job security to those in the front-facing positions. These highly visible jobs are typically precarious, offering few or no benefits. Many of the part-time positions were held by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC); museum staff had expressed concern for their safety on the institution’s July 24 reopening, which many felt took place too early.

An open letter to MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn, dated July 16 and signed by more than 80 staff members under the collective name MCAccountable, asked for the museum to remain closed until front-facing staff, who are required to be present when the institution is open, were comfortable returning to work. “The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities the hardest, both locally and nationally—a racist outcome effectuated by policies exactly like those the MCA is practicing,” the letter read.

Unlike many major US institutions, the MCA has not furloughed or laid off workers in the course of the pandemic. Speaking to Artnews, Grynsztejn explained that the conversion of the jobs would mean “more pay but also health benefits.” Those part-time employees wishing to hold one of the full-time positions must reapply in order to be considered; severance will be offered those who are not rehired.

The decision to consolidate the positions rankled some workers. “This isn’t really what we asked for,” Peyton Lynch, a full-time box office associate and one of the July 16 letter’s signatories, told Hyperallergic.  “A lot of the part-time staff don’t necessarily want to be full-time; they have other commitments. What they were asking for was more support. Health benefits are great, but couldn’t those be offered to part-time staff as well?”

UPDATE, August 19, 3:35 p.m.: A spokesperson for MCA shared director Madeleine Grynsztejn’s full response to the situation:

“We care deeply about all of our employees and their well-being during this trying time. This commitment led us to continue to pay all of our employees, including part-time staff, during the four-month museum closure. Taking care of our staff is a top priority at the MCA, and we’ve managed to avoid making any layoffs or cutting positions or pay, to date. Our decision to restructure the Visitor Experience department was developed after listening to suggestions from staff, who wanted secure positions with improved pay and benefits. While the part-time positions are unfortunately being reduced as part of the move to full-time, those employees, who worked anywhere from 3 to 28 hours a week, are being offered severance. At a time when 3 out of 10 museums are closing nationwide and we are witnessing massive furloughs and layoffs, the MCA has chosen to invest in the long-term welfare of our Visitor Experience staff, replacing job insecurity with job security. Full-time jobs also make for a stronger runway to professional advancement for an emergent generation of museum workers who deserve increased opportunities. A full-time Visitor Experience staff also anticipates a foreseeable future where Covid-19 remains with us, making health benefits all the more necessary. We are at the same time implementing more communication in our internal structure to support two-way dialogue to better listen to our employees, including open forums and discussions. We support people sharing their concerns and are actively looking for ways to support staff. Our society is facing many challenges right now, and we are fully committed to continuing our work to help make meaningful, positive social change toward fighting racism and creating equity inside and outside our museum walls. We are open. We are open physically for a wide and diverse community to offer solace and inspiration through extraordinary art; we are open to dialogue with our fantastic staff; and we are open to changing as we listen, learn and act.”