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Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Marciano Art Foundation.
Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Marciano Art Foundation.

Marciano Art Foundation Lays Off Workers Amid Union Drive then Shuts Its Doors

Los Angeles’s Marciano Art Foundation—established by Maurice and Paul Marciano, the founders of the American clothing retailer Guess, in 2013—has laid off dozens of employees days after they announced plans to unionize. According to the Los Angeles Times, the workers were informed they were being let go in an email from management that was sent at 6:13 PM on Tuesday. The letter cited low attendance to the foundation’s exhibition space as the reason and stated that Thursday, November 7, will be their final day with the organization.

Front-facing members of the museum’s staff, including docents and visitor services associates, announced they were launching a union drive in order to improve working conditions and address issues such as scheduling, family leave, and the starting wage, which is $14.25 per hour—the minimum wage in the city and county of Los Angeles. They intended to join District Council 36 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, November 1.

Eli Petzold, a visitor services employee at the museum, which opened in a former Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard in the spring of 2017, told the Los Angeles Times that the staff was surprised by the sudden wave of layoffs, since they came after the foundation released a statement after the start of the union drive that suggested management would be willing to work with the union. “As an organization, we are supportive of all recommendations to improve the workplace experience and will give this careful attention as we begin our discussions,” the foundation said.

While the foundation can legally lay off workers, it cannot terminate the employment of its staffers because of their organizing. Discriminating against workers involved in a union drive is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which states that “transferring, laying off, terminating, assigning employees more difficult work tasks, or otherwise punishing” them for engaging in union activities is illegal. 

Following the email that was sent to employees, the foundation announced that it would close indefinitely. A statement that was published on the foundation’s website reads: “Marciano Art Foundation will be closing the current exhibition early on November 6 after a 5 month run. The foundation will remain closed to the public until further notice.” Both “Donna Huanca: Obsidian Ladder” and “Anna Uddenberg: Privé” were scheduled to run until December 1 but were closed as of Monday.