Saturday, June 10, 2023

Meow Wolf Denver workers form a local union, but they may face an uphill battle

The Meow Wolf Workers Collective said Tuesday that it has formed a union for employees of the immersive art-and-entertainment giant’s Denver location, Convergence Station.

The announcement follows a recent pay-and-benefit victory touted by the original, 170-member Meow Wolf Workers Union in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the home of the company’s first founding, the House of Eternal Return. Denver’s Convergence Station opened in September 2021 and has approximately 230 hourly staff members.

The Denver union, operating under Communications Workers of America Local 7055, will ask to recognize ownership immediately rather than pursue a delayed and costly union-busting strategy, according to a characterization by a union spokesperson, as it did in Santa Claus. Did it in fe. Collective requests include job security, higher pay, better disability housing and a diverse workplace without discrimination and harassment.

“We are not against Meow Wolf, because we are Meow Wolf,” the organizers wrote on, the official site of the Meow Wolf Workers Collective (MWWC). “Forming a union is an act of care for us and for those who work with us.”

Company officials declined to respond to specific requests for comment, but provided a statement to The Denver Post mirroring language from its 2020 response to the Santa Fe union. In it, he refrained from recognizing its legitimacy, stating that he was unaware of any official Denver union.

“We understand that employees in Colorado have expressed their intention to join communications workers in the US and MWWC, but at this time, Meow Wolf has not received any official communication from CWA,” Meow Wolf officials wrote this week. .

Union representatives told The Denver Post that Meow Wolf employees have struggled for fair treatment and recognition. They have reached out to CEO Jose Tolosa, a former ViacomCBS executive who joined in January, but has never received a response.

“In some ways they pretend we don’t exist, except that we’ve made massive changes (in Santa Fe),” said chief Denver organizer Milagro Padilla of the Santa Fe union contract. march. “This includes better pay and almost doubling of maternity and paternity leave. Some members told us that their lives had changed, and that (that) was the only reason they stayed with the company.

None of those protections yet apply to Denver workers or the hundreds of workers at Meow Wolf’s third location Omega Mart in Las Vegas.

Denver and Las Vegas have both been promoted by the company as largely successful operations, with each top 1 million visitors after opening in less than a year.

In addition, according to calculations done by The Santa Fe New Mexican, the company took in about $38 million in ticket sales last year. For MWWC leaders, that revenue seems like added incentive to recognize Denver’s efforts.

When labor efforts began in Santa Fe in 2020, the nascent collective there collected membership-card signatures from the majority of non-management employees, said Representative Michael Wilson at the time. But the road to unionization was difficult.

Meow wolf employee justin gardner talks with people exploring meow wolf’s convergence station on september 17, 2021 in denver. The company has seen the convergence station as a huge success, drawing over 1 million visitors in less than a year since its opening. (photo by rebecca slezak/the denver post)

Meow Wolf’s co-CEO then said that he thought the company did best without unions. But the company’s internal response was far more aggressive, according to Padilla, who said it had hired an anti-union law firm to engage in union-busting the “playbook”. Padilla said Meow Wolf held “captive audience” (or face-to-face) meetings and pressured managers to parrot the company’s language to undermine their efforts and embarrass employees.

Copies of internal Meow Wolf documents obtained by Denver Post and dated October 2020 produce detailed scripts for managers to follow in mandatory, union-related meetings. Those “key messages” such as how topics are “really uncomfortable” for the company, and how bringing in outsiders could make efforts “slower, more cumbersome and full of rules,” among other claims.

The documents include a separate section for “mostly pro-union” groups, where the script urges managers to ask employees to consider fixing these issues without third parties or “external legal counsel.”

“I think they realized it wouldn’t work,” Padilla said. “They understood that their public image was being affected, so that’s when we started to see a little change.”

In February, after nearly a year of fruitless negotiations, the Santa Fe union filed suit with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), saying the company was making unilateral decisions and ignoring the union, with which The bargain was promised, Padilla said.

Matthew sanchez sees through a bubble...

Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post

Matthew Sanchez looks through a bubble as part of the Numina exhibit at Convergence Station at Meow Wolf on September 17, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.

In late March, a formal contract was ratified by the company and MWWC. According to the Santa Fe Reporter, this included about $1 million for wage adjustments, bringing the annual salary for full-time employees to $60,000. Padilla said that if the ownership fails to recognize the Denver union, it will file with the NLRB again.

Meow Wolf’s leaders have grappled with issues stemming from its rapid growth in recent years as the organization transformed from a DIY, Santa Fe-based artists’ collective into a multi-million-dollar corporation and immersive leader.

Four employees and contract workers in Santa Fe and Denver filed discrimination and fair pay lawsuits against the company in 2019, the same year Meow Wolf reported more than $150 million in investments. According to the Santa Fe Reporter, Meow Wolf strongly denied the claims in a statement to The Denver Post, settling the two out of court in early 2021.

In April 2020, the company furloughed about half of its total workforce, or 201 employees, and furloughed another 56. The company blamed COVID-19 for those layoffs, but leaked audio obtained by The Santa Fe Reporter indicated they were to come anyway. According to Alex de Vor of The Reporter “the financial troubles … (that) were more serious than the company …”.

That same year, investors also condemned forced buybacks of shares in the company, The Denver Post reported. Investors received a letter dated August 1 from co-founder Vince Kadlubek, stating that the company was exercising its right to redeem shares at $83.70 per share, despite raising $1.3 million in 48 hours with the initial sale. .

Full disclosure: The Communications Workers of America is the same umbrella organization that supports the Denver Newspaper Guild, which serves Denver Post employees.

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World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Desk
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