LOS ANGELES — In their ongoing struggle for the recognition of their union and reinstatement of their jobs, members of the Marciano Art Foundation (MAF) Union, along with supporters around the country, demonstrated in front of Guess stores on the busiest shopping day of the year, the annual anxiety-ridden consumption-based frenzy known as Black Friday. Gathered along one of the most famous upscale shopping concourses of the country, Rodeo Drive, a collection of MAF Union supporters clad in their characteristic all-black attire carried protest signs while handing out flyers to holiday shoppers.
The Marciano brothers, Paul and Maurice, co-founded Guess clothing brand in 1981 and went on to found the eponymous Marciano Art Foundation in 2017 to house and display their considerable art collection. Less than one month ago, on Friday, November 1, MAF visitor service associates announced their plans to unionize. While the museum initially seemed cordial and open to negotiation, telling the New York Times that “as an organization, we are supportive of all recommendations to improve the workplace experience and will give this careful attention as we begin our discussions,” the foundation quickly changed its tune, sending an email on Tuesday, November 5 laying off all 70 of its visitor services associates, citing low attendance. It soon after announced it was shutting its doors and had “no present plans to reopen.”
One of the protest signs, a simultaneously sincere and tongue-in-cheek large red arrow pointing to the entrance of the Guess store, asked would-be shoppers, “GUESS WHO LAID US OFF?” The signs were designed to get their message across to passersby quickly while “making it a little fun,” said artist and member of the MAF Union Spencer Longo. Nearby, more protesters held four vertical signs each emblazoned with one letter of the word “SALE” to form an acronym that spelled out “Seventy Art Laborers Eliminated.”
The decision to shutter the museum was “a very big abrupt response to our announcement [to unionize],” said writer Helene Seifer, a former MAF visitor service associate present at the Rodeo Drive demonstration. “I loved working there and sharing the art and then — POOF,” she relayed, flyers in hand. Friday’s action was the fourth protest that the workers have organized since the museum’s unexpected closure.
Across the country, groups of labor organizers gathered to voice their support of the MAF Union, including one at Tanger Outlets at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. Protesters in New York City held signs stating “Union Busting is Disgusting” and chanted “This ain’t the way/Not today, not today” along 5th Avenue, another street legendary for its shopping. One of the organizers of the NYC protest, who wished to remain anonymous, said no employees from Guess had come out to talk to them (their counterparts at the Rodeo Drive protest said the same). The organizer stated he was a member of the District Council 37 chapter of AFSCME (American Foundation of State, County and Municipal Employees), an organization that helps unions like the MAF Union operate and form. In an earlier statement to Hyperallergic, Lylwyn Esangga of AFSCME District Council 36, said, “In our opinion, this [decision to close] is an anti-union action.” Several attempts were made by Hyperallergic to contact the Marciano Art Foundation with no response.
The actions of the MAF Union seems to have inspired art workers unsatisfied with their job conditions on a local level. Employees at the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), for instance, recently declared their formal intention to form a union, citing “low wages relative to experience, lack of benefits, schedule instability, and high turnover” as concerns. At the Black Friday demonstration on Rodeo Drive, MAF Union organizer Eli Petzold wore a MOCA Union pin on his chest in a gesture of solidarity with the fledgling organization, saying “so much of the nationwide event is showing we’re part of big labor family.”