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MoCA Grand Avenue. Photo: Elon Schoenholz. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

LA MoCA Staffers Launch Union Drive

More than 120 employees at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Los Angeles are campaigning to form a union, the Los Angeles Times reports. The announcement is the latest in a string of union drives that have ignited at cultural institutions across the country, with staff members from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the New Museum, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, as well as the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, successfully achieving improved working conditions through new union contracts.

On Friday, November 22, some fifty workers representing several departments at MoCA, including visitor engagement, education, and curatorial, delivered a statement of intent to museum management. Since director Klaus Biesenbach is out of town, the group met with Mia Locks, who joined the institution as senior curator and head of new initiatives in May. They cited pay and “lack of transparency” between the higher-ups at the museum and the rest of the staff as one of the reasons for organizing.

“We know that forming a union is the best way to protect not only our well-being, but to advocate for the people who work here for years to come,” Christine Samples, a gallery attendant at the museum and member of the organizing committee, told the Los Angeles Times. “I want art to be impactful for the community, and I’m looking for more investment from MoCA into the workers so we can invest more in the public’s experience of art.”

Earlier this week, the institution revealed that admission at the museum will be free to the public starting on January 11, 2020. The policy change was made after MoCA board president Carolyn Clark pledged to give the museum $10 million at MoCA’s first annual benefit in May. The campaign also follows a controversy involving LA’s Marciano Art Foundation, which laid off its employees and then shut its doors indefinitely after they revealed plans to form a union. The move led the staffers to protest outside the shuttered institution and to picket a dinner hosted by the Marciano brothers, who also own the retail giant Guess. The foundation’s former workers are now attempting to stage nationwide demonstrations outside of the stores during Black Friday.

In response to its employees’ request for the museum to recognize its campaign, MoCA provided Artforum with the following statement: “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.” If successful, the workers will join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees—one of the largest trade unions in the United States.

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