Artists in creative studios at Meow Wolf, operations staff at the arts and entertainment giant’s popular interactive exhibit in Santa Fe and other company employees announced Thursday they have established a union and now seek voluntary acceptance from Meow Wolf management.
The Meow Wolf Workers Collective intends to become a local unit within the Communications Workers of America, said Bill Rodgers, one of the union’s organizers.
“Our position is we are a union,” Rodgers told The New Mexican. “We are asking Meow Wolf to accept us formally right now.”
Meow Wolf’s top executives — Ali Rubinstein, Carl Christensen and Jim Ward — responded to the unionization effort with a joint statement saying they believe the company would operate better without a workers union.
“Meow Wolf recognizes and respects our employees’ right to organize,” they wrote. “The policies, practices and culture already in place make our company a great place to work and we value our ability to work directly with employees. As such, we feel Meow Wolf works best without a union.”
The union is collecting signatures for a petition, and more than half of employees already have signed. The collective wants to achieve an undefined supermajority of signatures to convince Meow Wolf to accept the union, Rodgers said.
If Meow Wolf does not voluntarily accept the union, organizers would follow National Labor Relations Board procedures to have an election to seek more than 50 percent “yes” votes to have the union recognized, Rodgers said.
“Right now we are focusing on getting voluntary recognition by Meow Wolf,” said Rodgers, a story lead who has worked at Meow Wolf for six years.
Rodgers said the Meow Wolf Workers Collective has been discussing forming a union since about the beginning of the year.
“Our strongest stuff is we are seeking employment protection,” Rodgers said. “We want to make sure pay is equitable across the board. We want opportunities for career growth so people know where they are with their career.”
The company — which has employed up to 500 people and announced in May 2019 it was instituting a starting hourly wage of $17 — has faced discrimination and copyright infringement claims by a handful of workers.
“By unionizing, workers of Meow Wolf demand a seat at the table in matters of employment protection, diversity and inclusion, pay equity, clear paths to advancement and creativity within the company,” the collective said in a news release.
The release did not mention that Meow Wolf laid off 201 employees and furloughed 58 in April, following the coronavirus-related shutdown. At the time, Meow Wolf employed about 400 people.
But on the “frequently asked questions” section of the union website, answering why they are seeking a workers contract with company leaders, organizers mentioned three rounds of layoffs as well as jobs that have been outsourced to contractors.
“It’s our guarantee for things like pay, safety, hours, healthcare, and [paid time off],” the collective stated. “It is protection from outsourcing, layoffs, crunch, and other unilateral decisions by management. … Without a contract, we have no guarantee that the security we enjoy now will be there tomorrow.”
Union organizers said on their website they are calling for Meow Wolf “to stand by its progressive, radical roots and recognize our union.”
“In doing so,” they said, “Meow Wolf would not only live its mission of supporting artists, it would also go beyond the status quo of its peers in the industry. Meow Wolf would once again be a beacon for working creatives around the world.”
The company’s House of Eternal Return exhibit in Santa Fe closed in March after the state issued its initial public health order calling for closure of nonessential businesses at the start of the pandemic.
Meow Wolf was established as a business in 2008 and achieved national recognition with the opening of the House of Eternal Return in April 2016.
The company intends to open a second exhibit, Omega Mart, in Las Vegas, Nev., in early January as the anchor attraction at a “radically reimagined” retail, art and entertainment complex called AREA15.
A third Meow Wolf interactive exhibit is expected to open later in 2021 in Denver, and projects could follow in Washington, D.C., and Phoenix.
“We want to work with the company,” Rodgers said. “We want the company to recognize us.”