On November 1, 2019, nearly 100 visitor services associates, docents, and floor leads working at the Marciano Art Foundation (MAF) in Los Angeles filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to join AFSCME District Council 36. Their effort to form a union came in response to low wages (most employees at MAF made L.A.’s minimum wage of $14.25/hour), precarious part time work, and a desire to be treated fairly and with respect.

Most employees held college degrees, yet could not afford to live in one of the country’s most expensive cities. Also, associates were required to have knowledge of art history and the museum’s collection in order to be accepted for employment. This led to high turnover, with most employees forced to move on to other work that would allow them to pay their rent and keep their lights on. “It’s common for people who are working there to want to leave because they need to be able to live an adult life in Los Angeles, where the cost of living is high,” said Spencer Longo, a floor lead who is also a member of his union’s organizing committee.

The campaign by MAF employees to form their union was inspired by a recent wave of union organizing campaigns at other museums across the country. In addition, another L.A. museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), filed a petition with the NLRB on November 22, 2019 to join AFSCME as well.

MAF is owned by Paul and Maurice Marciano, the founders of GUESS Jeans. The brothers are notoriously anti-union, having fired workers at GUESS Jeans and moving much of their production overseas when employees tried to organize in the past. True to form, on November 7, 2019, the brothers laid off all MAF employees and closed their doors to the public in response to the organizing campaign.

Three weeks later, in response to the illegal layoffs, AFSCME and MAF workers joined with hundreds of community members to stage informational leafletting at dozens of GUESS stores across the country on Black Friday. They also filed unfair labor charges with the NLRB and a lawsuit under the Wagner Act against the brothers. Undaunted, the MAF organizing committee refused to allow the Marciano brothers to get away with their union busting and immoral actions without a fight.

That fight paid off only weeks later, when MOCA voluntarily agreed to recognize AFSCME as the union for workers there. While the fight continues for justice for the workers at MAF, their brave actions essentially kicked the door open for their MOCA sisters and brothers.