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After Layoffs, Tenement Museum Union Files Complaint With National Labor Relations Board

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York (Reading Tom/Flickr)

The Tenement Museum Union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the Lower East Side museum, accusing its leadership of unfair labor practices. The complaint was filed on July 24, two days after the museum laid off 76 workers, which included its entire staff of part-time educators. Of the union’s over 80 members before the pandemic, only 12 remain employed by the museum.

The complaint, filed by UAW Local 2110 on behalf of the workers, accuses the museum of laying off workers without notice or severance, refusing to bargain in good faith during the ongoing contract negotiations between the two sides, and withholding information from the union.

Earlier this week, the union sent a letter to the museum’s board members, urging them to rescind the layoffs and “bargain in good faith with our union for our right to return to our positions when they are restored.”

“We are […] deeply dismayed that the Museum has now permanently laid us off, severing our employment status, without notice, severance, or bargaining with our union,” the letter says. “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.”

A spokesperson for the Tenement Museum declined to comment on the “legal aspects” of the former employees’ claims, but offered to “speak to the human element” with the following statement:

These are extremely difficult times, we can understand the pain and anger of these former employees. However, we took these steps to put us in the best position to maintain the long term viability of the institution. The future remains uncertain including the Museum’s operating model as the pandemic continues and after. We will continue as we have from the beginning to bargain with the union in good faith.

In March, 13 full-time workers were laid off; 40 full-time and 76-part time workers were furloughed; and eight members of senior management staff were partially furloughed. The museum received a $1.4 million loan from the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in April, which was used to recall the 40 furloughed full-time employees. The museum’s part-time educators and hourly workers in its retail, marketing, and visitor services department did not benefit from the loan.

Pleading with the board members, the workers write, “We ask you to ensure that the Tenement Museum lives up to its professed mission of educating about the important historical struggle of immigrants for labor and human rights in this country by recognizing the rights of the Museum’s own unionized workforce.”