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INBAL workers protesting delayed wages at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City in March 2018. Conditions have not improved since then, say several employees (all photos courtesy of Edgar Ali Villalba Herrera)

In protest of delayed payments, a group of workers at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL) in Mexico City closed the building and other institutions under INBAL’s purview on the morning of Wednesday, December 11. Hyperallergic spoke to several INBAL employees who described ongoing and increasingly dire wage delays that have endured for years without relief.

INBAL is the national organization responsible for Mexico’s cultural and artistic activities and oversees major museums like Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Museo Mural Diego Rivera, and Museo Tamayo, among others. According to their testimonies, both unionized and non-unionized workers from different sectors of the institution have had payments held up by up to seven months; as of today, some reported that they are still waiting to be paid.

Their demands have coincided with, but are entirely separate from, a protest that occurred at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes on Tuesday over a painting of revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata.

The group that organized the closure on Wednesday consisted of union workers, primarily employees who hold operational or administrative roles. However, non-unionized individuals working at INBAL have been profoundly affected by severe payment delays, according to Edgar Ali Villalba Herrera, a technician in the conservation department at INBAL. Villalba spoke to Hyperallergic on behalf of #YaPágameINBAL and #conTRATOdigno, two movements that are bringing visibility to INBAL’s wage issues.

Villalba and many other members of these movements work under the non-unionized designation known as “Capítulo 3000,” which he says makes them particularly vulnerable. Unlike their union colleagues, they are considered service providers, not staff, and although they must report to their posts on a regular schedule, they do not enjoy the same rights as those in the union; for example, they lack benefits like health insurance and paid vacation. They are also meant to be paid on a monthly rather than bi-weekly basis, although some often wait months for payment.

In March 2018, a group of INBAL’s Capítulo 3000 workers staged a protest outside the institution’s central headquarters in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. At the time, the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL), one of the museums managed by INBAL, posted a tweet that went viral: “The love of art should not mean going three months without payment.”

Villalba says that they were met with verbal expressions of support and solidarity from leaders of both INBAL and Mexico’s Secretariat of Culture, but conditions have not improved nearly two years later. Villalba also said that non-unionized workers lack the power to stage strike actions like the union’s closure of INBAL institutions on Wednesday. That protest, however, may be giving renewed visibility to the challenges faced by Capítulo 3000 and other employees.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, INBAL sent a press release published on its website yesterday. The statement primarily addresses unionized workers, promising disbursement of their December salaries by this Friday. A sentence at the end of the press release reads, “Payment for Capítulo 3000 workers is guaranteed, as it is every month.”

On December 11, @conTRATOdigno, one of the social media accounts run by Capítulo 3000 workers, tweeted that it is grateful for INBA’s expressions of commitment. The tweet also highlights the precarious nature of their employment classification and asks for the specific date of a meeting with the institute’s director, Lucina Jiménez.

A flyer distributed by INBAL’s Capítulo 3000 workers during the March 2018 protest

An anonymous employee who has worked in the curatorial department of one of INBAL’s museums for more than three years says payment delays have been a systemic problem for as long as she can remember. She points out that conditions worsened in 2015 when INBAL began contracting more people as Capítulo 3000 employees due to budget cuts in the cultural sector.

In a meeting with union workers on Wednesday, Omar Monroy, head of the Secretariat of Culture’s unit of administration and finances, recognized that INBAL currently has a deficit of 720 million Mexican pesos (~$37,852,200).

INBAL Capítulo 3000 workers during the March 2018 protests holding up a banner addressed to Lidia Camacho, at the time the director of INBAL.

Curator Violeta Horcasitas has worked for INBAL in different capacities, including under a Capítulo 3000 contract, though she now works part-time on a project basis in part because of wage delays. “The demoralizing thing is that I would like to be a part of the institution, but it doesn’t make sense to go there every day when you aren’t getting paid,” she says. “In some instances, I have waited three or four months for payment.” Even now, Horcasitas says she has only been paid half of the sum owed to her for the public programming she developed and that the other half of the payment has been held up for two months.

Another anonymous employee at one of INBAL’s museums says it worries him that he has not been paid for six months, especially as the year is coming to a close and he continues to do his job, sometimes working late nights. “There is a sense of abandonment. No one in the institution makes us a priority,” he told Hyperallergic. Like Villalba, he observed that non-unionized employees like him don’t have the power to stage protests such as Wednesday morning’s, because they do not enjoy the same legal protections as union colleagues. “They would just fire us if we did that,” he says.

Horcasitas referred to the situation as a catch-22: workers cannot quit their jobs in protest because there is nowhere else to work. “Where else would I get a job? The majority of museums are public,” she says. “And I don’t know of anyone working at a public museum in this country that hasn’t been faced this problem.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...