The Marciano Art Foundation (MAF) in Los Angeles, which closed its physical space indefinitely in November 2019 and laid off all 70 of its visitor services associates after the staffers announced their intention to unionize, has settled a lawsuit filed by the workers. The suit alleged that the the foundation and its founders, brothers Paul and Maurice Marciano, had violated a law requiring employees to provide at least 60 days’ written notice before instituting mass layoffs.
A lawyer representing the workers told the New York Times that each former visitor services employee is expected to receive about 10 weeks of pay. In exchange, District Council 36 — the labor union in Southern California that workers at the museum had petition to represent them — will drop its charge of unfair labor practices. A mediator’s proposal acquired by Hyperallergic said that MAF would pay the gross sum of $205,481 to the 70 plaintiffs and $70,000 in attorney fees.
“I’m happy that it’s resolved, but I still walk by the museum and it makes me really sad,” Eli Petzold, one of the former associates and a member of the union organizing committee, told Hyperallergic. “Settlements are not designed to make people feel better except through monetary compensation, and there’s nothing they could do to bring back the community — this really vibrant, multigenerational group of people, it was just gone. That was a huge disruption in people’s lives.”
The foundation and contemporary art museum opened to the public in 2017 and shuttered less than two years later. The visitor services workers, whohad been advocating for better pay conditions, were laid off via email a day before their dismissals became effective and told that the measure was due to “low attendance.” However, its timing in the wake of the workers’ unionizing attempts prompted allegations that retaliatory anti-union sentiment was behind the layoffs and abrupt closure.
“We are confident that further litigation would have demonstrated that the Marcianos’ conduct was unlawful and motivated, at least in part, by illegal, anti-union animus,” the plaintiff’s lawyer said in a statement, according to the NYT. “The reality of our legal system is that the ultrawealthy can drag the process out to the detriment of parties with lesser means.”
Following the layoffs, the former workers held several protests demanding their reinstatement and union acknowledgment, some outside the museum and another notably at Wally’s Wine & Spirits, where the Marciano brothers were hosting a a 400-dollar a plate dinner.
Petzold said that his experience at MAF has taken on a new significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, as thousands of art workers at institutions nationwide continue to face furloughs and layoffs on a mass scale.
“Seeing what’s happened at museums in the last several months has made me realize that what happened at the Marciano Art Foundation was not an aberration. It was just an illustration of what museum board members will do when faced with administrative dilemmas — they just cut off people’s livelihood,” he said.
MAF has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.