On Friday morning, dozens of fired staff from the Marciano Art Foundation picketed outside the now-shuttered museum. They were joined by members of the local International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union, and we found local resident Helene Seifer among the protestors.
“All we want to do is talk to them [the Marcianos], but they never responded to any of our requests, so we finally went to the union for help,” said Seifer. A local resident, Ebell member and food writer for the Larchmont Chronicle, Seifer joined the staff at MAF four months ago. In that time, she said, she tried to present ideas for programs to increase attendance, but was told by the museum that attendance doesn’t matter…even though the Marcianos cited low attendance as the primary reason for closing the museum in their email to staff.
“They are mainly interested in the tax write-off,” said Seifer. “We were totally shocked that they would close the museum to prevent the staff from forming a union.”
Seifer introduced us to Spencer Longo, a spokesman for the workers and part of the organizing committee, who worked at MAF for 15 months as a Floor Lead.
“We want our jobs back, we want them to voluntarily recognize the union, and we want our back pay,” said Longo.
Longo said the actions by the Marcianos are very rare and unique. He also said he hopes the state and federal labor laws designed to protect works from such “gross and overreaching behavior” will force the museum owners to recognize the union and re-instate the workers. He said the workers are being advised by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). According to Longo, it would be a huge victory for the workers who have no benefits, can only work part-time, and earn the minimum wage (even the supervisors are earning less than $20 per hour, he said). Longo said he the management team has its “hearts in the right place” and are often left having to fill in when staff hours are cut, because work schedules are subject to the whims of the Marcianos, who frequently change schedules at the last minute to reduce costs.
An artist himself, Longo said they organized the protest to keep attention focused on the Marcianos and their unfair labor action, so they don’t just quietly re-open without the union. So far, the closure has attracted national media coverage and several artists have begun speaking out in support of the workers. Artists Sadie Barnette and Frances Stark, whose work is on display at the MAF, were among the first to speak out.
As we were leaving the protest, we met Betsy-Ann Tofler and Priscilla Ulene on their way to the use the restroom at the Ebell of Los Angeles, as pre-arranged by Ebell member Seifer. Tofler and Ulene jokingly told us they were the “old ladies” of the protest.
“I loved the idea that it was a free museum, that it was a private collection that was open for the benefit of the community,” said Tofler, who has worked at the museum for 11 months. “I love the building and I loved the job, but now that they have done this, it makes me question over and over again how they really feel about the community and what their humanity is really like.”
Ulene, who also works at the Broad, told us she grew up in the neighborhood at Windsor and Olympic and recalled walking past the building that now houses the museum every day on her way to school at John Burroughs Middle School.
“For years, I wanted to go inside and I finally got to be in the inside and now I’m kicked out!” said Ulene.