Late last week, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles announced that it had agreed to recognize a unionized work force under The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 36. The December 6th announcement was a voluntary agreement reached after more than 100 museum employees motioned to unionize in late November. Their decision to move forward with the AFSCME makes them one of only two LA organizations to recognize a union of workers, the other is the Museum of Tolerance.
Just a few weeks ago, the process began when a large group of employees gave a letter of intent to unionize to MOCA management and filed an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board. Staff raised issues including low wages, working conditions, scheduling, high turnover, and lack of benefits as reasons to unionize. In addition to that, nearly every department of the MOCA was represented by more than 50 employees who penned a statement to management that in part read:
‘In order to fulfill MOCA’s civic responsibility, we call on you to not only consider your duty to the community through improvements for the audience, but to afford the same sentiments toward the workers who actively embody the primary mission of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.’
When the process began, MOCA administration did not seem overly keen to move forward with their employee’s wishes, but since then, their tune has changed. MOCA’s choice to willingly move forward with unionization means there will be no actual vote to unionize. ‘We have spent the last two weeks thoroughly considering the staff’s initiative through the lens of MOCA’s vision of being a civic-minded institution, and we concluded that we want to be supportive of this effort,’ said Klaus Biesenbach, director of the MOCA, in a press release. ‘Our valued and engaging staff are the face and backbone of our museum and, in embracing this agreement, we are investing in the long-term vibrancy of an organization founded by artists and dedicated to the promotion of the arts as a public good in Los Angeles. We will move forward in good faith to establish an equitable and sustainable contract.’
The MOCA’s decision to allow for unionization puts them alongside a number of other institutions that have recently done the same including the New Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. The AFSCME that will represent MOCA employees currently serves nearly 20,000 individuals through 60 local unions. The MOCA’s positive announcement fell on the same day that the Marciano Art Foundation stated that it would be closing its doors amidst massive layoffs after its employees motioned to unionize.
‘We care about MOCA and we want to make it better,’ said MOCA gallery attendant Christine Samples in a statement. ‘That’s what organizing is all about: giving workers a voice on the job so that we can improve conditions for employees and the experience for our community.’