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Facing Delayed Wages, Non-Unionized Workers of Mexico City’s Institute of Fine Arts Stage Protest

A group of around 40 employees quietly entered the Palace of Fine Arts during an event. They silently held up their placards as many in the audience cheered and yelled “contrato digno” — a call for “dignified contracts.”

Non-unionized, “Capítulo 3000” workers of INBAL protested delayed wages at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City on Wednesday (all images and video courtesy of Edgar Ali Villalba Herrera on behalf of #YaPágameINBAL and #conTRATOdigno)

Workers of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL) in Mexico City, the national organization responsible for Mexico’s major museums, staged a protest on Wednesday, December 18 to demand payments. The majority of the protesters were Capítulo 3000 employees, a non-unionized classification of service providers in Mexico that has been especially susceptible to institution-wide wage delays that have, for some, lasted months.

“Since we haven’t seen tangible change, our duty is to keep reminding INBAL that they have an unresolved matter,” said Edgar Ali Villalba Herrera, a conservation technician at INBAL and spokesperson for the movements #YaPágameINBA and #conTRATOdigno, in an interview with Hyperallergic. Their demonstration followed a shutdown of several INBAL museums by unionized employees last week, also in protest of delayed wages.

Around 6pm on Wednesday, a group of around 40 employees quietly entered the Palace of Fine Arts during an event celebrating the life of artist Adolfo Mexiac. Protesters gathered at the back of the auditorium and in front of the stage and silently held up their placards as many in the audience cheered and yelled “contrato digno” — a call for “dignified contracts,” one of the movements’ slogans.

“It was important to us that our protest wasn’t based on violence or vandalism,” said Villalba. “It was a symbolic act that aimed to give visibility to the issues we’re experiencing.” Among the texts written on the placards held up by Villalba and his colleagues were “Exhibitions are always on time, why aren’t our payments?”; “NO to work without rights”; and “The love of art should not mean unpaid work.”

A placard that read “NO to work without rights”

Vilallba and a small group of protesters met with Pedro Fuentes, Subdirector of Administration at INBAL, yesterday morning. According to Villalba, Fuentes said INBAL had processed 353 of the 811 pending payments for Capítulo 3000 workers as of Thursday, and that they hoped to pay an additional 175 employees by December 23. “But that still leaves many people without the resources to live,” said Villalba.

Fuentes attributed the slowdown in salary payments to changes imposed by the new government, whereby the finance ministry of Mexico (known as Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público or simply “Hacienda”) must review and authorize the release of any funds. However, systemic wage delays at INBAL have been ongoing for years, according to multiple workers who spoke to Hyperallergic. While recent holdups may have been due to Hacienda’s review processes, said Villalba, “The institute has failed to resolve problems that have emerged with every administration.”

Villalba stressed that they are always met with respect and empathy on part of INBAL’s leadership, who are increasingly open to speaking with Capítulo 3000 workers. But they have seen little improvement with regard to payments.

A placard in the center demands “on-time payments for Capítulo 3000 workers”

Paulina Maya, an employee of the Museo Mural Diego Rivera who also advocates on behalf of #YaPágameINBA and #conTRATOdigno, highlights improved communication channels with INBAL administrators since their first protest last year. “It was the first time we decided to go out and denounce the payment delays, because we had suffered them for so long and it was unsustainable to continue going to work when we hadn’t been paid in, say, three months,” she told Hyperallergic. “Why hadn’t people complained about this earlier? I think it’s a bit of a generational issue. People’s ideas about what constitutes a job and what rights deserve to be valued are changing.”

A woman held up a placard that read, “I don’t have money and it’s because of INBAL”
Protesters at the Palace of Fine Arts on Wednesday. One placard addressed INBAL director Lucina Jiménez: “Lucina, have you been paid for November yet? We haven’t!”

Both Maya and Villalba said they are grateful for and eager to continue dialogue with INBAL, not only to secure on-time payments, but to improve the overall structure and conditions of Capítulo 3000 workers. “Part of the issue is that we are a sort of ghost structure within the larger structure of the institute,” said Villalba, referring to the inherent precarity and lack of visibility of the Capítulo 3000 classification. He hopes they can work with the institute’s director, Lucina Jiménez, to be fully recognized as employees and to be properly compensated for their work.

A group photo of the protest’s participants at the Palace of Fine Arts
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