MOCA will recognize employee union; Marciano closure is permanent

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles said Friday that it would voluntarily recognize a new union formed by more than 100 visitor services employees.

The employees, who petitioned the National Labor Relations Board late last month, intend to unionize with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“We have been outspoken for over a year about our vision for the museum as a civic-minded public institution that supports the community,” MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach told The Times. “That is as important internally for our staff as it is externally.”

He said recognizing employees’ desire to organize is “in full alignment with this vision we have set forth for our institution. Ultimately, we’re taking this step to come together as one team, one MOCA.”

The burgeoning MOCA Union can be formally established without the additional step of a secret ballot election, as outlined by the NLRB.

“This is a smart move,” says Lylwyn Esangga, organizing director at AFSCME’s District Council 36. “At the end of the day the workers want a voice and a seat at the table. … It shows a willingness to recognize that seat at the table. This is unique in that many employers will go through an election or do an anti-union campaign.”

Gallery attendant and MOCA union organizer Christine Samples released a statement that said, “We are thrilled MOCA will voluntarily recognize our union, and we look forward to working together to start a new partnership to serve our community. We care about MOCA and want to make it better.”

AFSCME represents workers at more than a dozen museums around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Early last month, visitor services workers at the Marciano Art Foundation announced their intent to unionize, but just days later the museum announced that it was laying off nearly six dozen employees and that the museum was closing down indefinitely.

On Friday afternoon, the Marciano announced that the closure was permanent.

“The foundation’s only goal was to give back to greater Los Angeles by fostering an appreciation of the arts accessible to everyone and free to the public,” read a Marciano statement. “We are grateful to the public and the art community for their enthusiastic support of this ambitious project and all that we have accomplished during the past two and a half years. …. Maurice and Paul Marciano will continue to support and encourage artists and curators internationally in their creative endeavors.”

At MOCA the unionization process will move forward with employees and management meeting next week to have an independent auditor verify the cards that were submitted to the NLRB expressing employees’ desire to unionize. Then they can move into negotations.

“We look forward to moving forward in good faith to establish an equitable and sustainable contract,” Biesenbach said.

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