Tenement Museum Union Files Complaint After Museum Lays Off 76 Workers

On July 22, New York’s Tenement Museum laid of seventy-six workers. This layoff included every part-time education employee– ninety-two percent of the museum’s education staff. Two days later, the Tenement Museum Union responded by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the museum administration of unfair labor practices.

The union’s complaint says that the museum laid workers off without giving notice or severance. The union also accuses the administration of refusing to bargain in good faith during contract negotiations. According to a letter union members wrote to the administration, the laid off workers were furloughed in March with the outbreak of COVID-19. Workers “believed that our furloughed status showed a commitment from the Museum to ultimately calling us back to work, even if in smaller numbers.” The museum also received a $1.4 million loan from the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program, which was used to bring back forty full-time staff members. These circumstances made other museum employees optimistic about returning to their jobs.

The Tenement Museum cites Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to delay the opening of indoor museum spaces as the reason for the layoffs. However, the union writes that the museum is preparing to begin outdoor walking tours in August, work which would have been done by union members. In the letter, union members argue that “the statements and conduct of some Museum representatives have made it all too clear that the pandemic closure is being used as an opportunity to circumvent our unionization.”

Front-facing workers at the Tenement Museum voted to join Local 2110 UAW, a union which represents workers at New York City’s cultural and educational institutions, on April 15, 2019. After the lay offs, only twelve of the union’s original eighty members remain employed by the museum.