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Workers at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art Seek to Build Power Through AFSCME

Photo by Carlos Vellanoweth
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Workers at Los Angeles’ famed Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) are seeking to organize with AFSCME District Council 36 for a voice on the job, underscoring the growing momentum for worker rights around the nation.

More than 120 workers asked MOCA to voluntarily recognize their union, while also filing an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board. A group of these workers also marched on the boss, presenting management with their demands and expressing their desire to have a voice through AFSCME.

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

The push to unionize at MAF led the owners of that museum to close it indefinitely a mere four days after workers announced their intention to organize with AFSCME – a classic union-busting maneuver. On Black Friday, MAF workers, AFSCME members and their allies staged protests at GUESS stores nationwide. The founders of GUESS Jeans, the Marciano brothers, also own MAF.

The jobs that MOCA workers perform cut across a range of categories, from audio-visual professionals to museum educators to retail workers. Among their chief demands are greater transparency in the workplace, better wages to reflect the advanced education many receive to work in art museums, and the ability to set schedules.

“In order for the messages of art to impact a community, every arts institution needs to invest in its workers,” said Chrissy Sample, a gallery attendant at MOCA. “We just want the resources and respect we deserve to execute our work without constant pain in our bodies, financial stress, and additive time to research art on the clock so we can give back to our visitors.”

The push by museum workers for a union reflects a broader trend of workers across a range of professions – from journalists to grocery store workers, from nurses to behavioral health workers – who are demanding a seat at the table. Union approval, which is at a near 50-year high, has been reflected in waves of recent worker actions, underscoring the desire of many Americans to join forces to unrig a system that favors the wealthy and the powerful.