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LA Museum Does the Right Thing

Tina Ivano, Flickr
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By AFSCME Staff Explore the Issues Workers' Rights

After workers at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles sought a voice on the job, MOCA voluntarily agreed to recognize their union based on signed cards, precluding workers from having to hold an election.

Two weeks ago, more than 120 MOCA staff members told museum leaders that they intended to join together for form a union through AFSCME District Council 36. They demanded voluntary recognition and filed an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board. Additionally, a group of workers marched on the boss to present their demands, which included greater transparency in the workplace, higher wages and greater control over their own schedules.

The new agreement formalizes a bargaining unit that will negotiate a contract with MOCA, according to a joint news release both sides issued Friday.

“We care about MOCA and we want to make it better. 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,” said Christine Samples, a MOCA gallery attendant. “We are thrilled the MOCA board will voluntarily recognize our union, and we look forward to working together to start a new partnership to serve our community through appreciation and education of the art we love.”

MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach pledged to negotiate “an equitable and sustainable” contract with Council 36.

“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 that was founded by artists and remains dedicated to the promotion of the arts as a public good in Los Angeles,” he said.

MOCA workers and their counterparts at another Los Angeles-based museum, the Marciano Art Foundation (MAF), are fighting for better wages and better working conditions, as well as greater recognition of the contributions they make to their respective museums.

MOCA’s response to the unionization drive is in stark contrast to MAF’s approach. The push to unionize at MAF was met with retaliation by the museum owners, who closed it indefinitely. On Black Friday, MAF workers, AFSCME members and their allies staged protests at GUESS stores nationwide. The founders of GUESS Jeans, the Marciano brothers, own MAF.