A popular children’s museum in downtown San Diego is now without a majority of its employees.
In a May 15 email, the Director of Human Resources at the New Children’s Museum Kacy Munden informed employees of the news.
“After several difficult conversations with our Board of Directors, the Senior Team, due to the financial hardship of the Museum and no expected reopen date from the officials, we have decided at this time we will be laying off the majority of our employees effective today, May 15, 2020,” wrote Munden.
The mass layoff, first reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, occurred a short time after employees of the nonprofit art museum voted to unionize. Of those laid off, 33 employees were members of the newly-formed union while 17 were non-union employees. An additional eight employees, all members of the newly formed union, remain on furlough.
Hannah Mykel was one of the 50 employees who received the letter from Munden, informing her that she no longer had a job.
Mykel worked as a Senior Museum Playworker.
“I helped kids and visitors create a space where they can play,” said Mykel who worked at New Children’s Museum for five years. “Sometimes you would see us running around, rolling around on the floor, other times you’d see us pillow fighting with kids.”
Mykel says she is saddened by the museum’s decision.
“I miss my friends, the people that I worked with, we were an incredibly tight-knit group of co-workers. I got to grow up with kids, got to be a part of their lives as they got older, and explored new things in the museum. I don’t get to do that anymore, I don’t get to see the kids' faces light up when they see me," she said.
Mykel says she knew there would be impacts from the arrival of the novel coronavirus to San Diego County. She, however, did not see the layoffs coming. She says she feels it is directly tied to her and her coworkers’ efforts at unionizing.
“It was a blow,” Mykel told NBC 7 Investigates. “It was the most shocking news, and just so hard to put into words. More than anything, it shows how little our board and our senior leadership cared about us... to have laid all of us off with absolutely no warning, save for a few minutes to our union representative before the email went out is to me just a huge slap in the face.”
Reed Vickerman serves as the museum’s chief operating officer. Vickerman dismissed any claim that the layoffs were in response to the staff’s push to unionize.
“As an interactive hands-on children’s museum, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped us in our tracks,” wrote Vickerman in a May 27 statement. “The vast majority of our revenue is generated by a steady stream of visitors coming through our doors. Our dedicated staff does a wonderful job interacting with our visitors and members, hosting school groups, birthday parties, camps, classes and community events. Unfortunately, all of those activities are shut down, and nearly all will likely be canceled for the remainder of the year, regardless of when we reopen."
The decision added Vickerman, did not come easy.
“This decision was one of the most difficult decisions the museum has had to make in its 12-year history. The Museum had to conduct a layoff due to the effects of an unprecedented pandemic that has nothing to do with employees’ union activities, initiated over seven months ago.”
A representative from Local Union 465 says the museum must do more for those laid off without notice, and without fair warning.
“In order to cure the taint of the Museum’s unilateral conduct, Local 465 also calls on the Museum to rescind its layoffs until the parties can conclude negotiations over the decision and its effects,” reads a letter to museum administrators obtained by NBC 7 Investigates. “Please let us know no later than the close of business on May 21, 2020 whether the Museum will rescind these layoffs, or whether it will become necessary for Local 465 to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the Museum for bad faith bargaining.”
Meanwhile, employees such as Hanna Mykel plan to fight the museum’s decision.
“We are in the process of filing an unfair labor practice against the museum,” said Mykel. “It’s not ok what the museum did and it soured a lot of thoughts and feelings that folks have towards the museum. We want the board to understand there are folks behind us and we won't go down without a fight.”