Meow Wolf Workers Collective responds to mass layoffs

Union President: “They’re making decisions unwisely and unilaterally.”

Less than a year after expanding to its newest location in Grapevine, Texas, today experiential arts corporation Meow Wolf was set to eliminate 165 employees from its exhibit and corporate divisions, per a leaked April 15 internal email from CEO Jose Tolosa that said the company would be cutting expenses by approximately 10% “and reducing our workforce in order to right size the business, fund our growth and continue driving our future success.”

As for which specific departments will be hit hardest and at which locations, Meow Wolf’s Chief Communications Officer Didi Bethurum tells SFR via email the company “won’t be answering questions or making additional public statements until everyone who is impacted is notified today.”

The latest dismissals marks Meow Wolf’s second round of mass layoffs following similar cuts in 2020, when 201 employees lost their jobs, ostensibly due to COVID-19—though SFR later learned the company knew those cuts were coming well before pandemic lockdowns came into play.

For members of the Meow Wolf Workers Collective union, which thus far represents workers at Santa Fe’s House of Eternal Return and Denver’s Convergence Station, and which is currently in bargaining negotiations for employees at Las Vegas, Nevada’s Omega Mart installation, the cuts are not entirely surprising. They are, however, frustrating.

“We believe the company knows it’s violating the collective bargaining agreement and are doing it anyway,” MWWC President Roz Rosvold tells SFR. “There is a process outlined in our agreement by which they must handle layoffs and they’re not engaging in that process.”

Rosvold refers to basic union protocol, such as a provision that states day-to-day operations cannot change during periods of negotiation. Additionally, he says, the union is fairly certain the company is “taking a tactic you see across corporate America wherein companies accept legal costs of something like this as a cost of doing business.”

MWWC SecretaryTreasurer Jerome Morrison agrees.

“I would say this is just the cost of doing business, and we’re not shocked at this point,” Morrison says, citing numerous union filings against the company with the National Labor Relations Board. “This is really draconian because we spent a year negotiating a contract for them to outright ignore it.”

Indeed, the Meow Wolf Workers Collective fight for company recognition was a contentious one, and included a January 2022 unfair labor practice filing. The union ratified under the Communication Workers of America in April that year.

In the case of today’s layoffs, Morrison says, the MWWC is supposed to have some say in which workers get cut based on aspects such as seniority, expertise and experience. And though the union did ultimately gain some influence, Morrison adds, they had to flex their muscle to make it happen.

“It’s one of those things we had to fight for, and when we got the list at first, there was no consideration for the people who’ve been here the longest, have good reports, a good rapport with their colleagues,” he says. “There has been some amount of…saving some of the folks who have been with us the longest.”

But how and why did the initial internal email leak on Monday in the first place? And why is the company so quick to lay off workers following an expansion?

“I don’t think anyone in the workforce knew they were under what [the company] has called an emergency to get more cash flow,” says  Denver-based CWA staff representative Jana Smith, a union pro with 28 years of experience who helps rep the MWWC. “I think in all cases, employers always go after the littlest guy, and because the execs don’t understand why [exhibit employees’] work is so important, because they don’t ask them what they could come up with—because there are no execs actually making the exhibits, right?—they just think about their own work, their bonuses, their stock options.”

Smith tells SFR even though the MWWC bargained for post-layoff job assistance for union members, it’s unlikely that will pan out for outgoing employees. It can be tough to ask for help from an employer that just laid you off, Smith posits.

“I don’t know how the workers could do that given that they send them home right away,” she explains. “They don’t have a chance to even sit at their desk and look at other Meow Wolf openings after they’re laid off. They don’t have a chance to say goodbye to their co-workers. I think that treats people like they’re not adults.”

Meanwhile, both Morrison and Rosvold tell SFR they’re shaken as their friends and colleagues continue to ponder their fates.

“These executives don’t care about our communities,” Morrison says, “and they wouldn’t take advice from any of the people on the ground.”

“There is one thing I’d like people to understand,” Rosvold adds, “which is that these decisions are made by executives who are in New York and Los Angeles. They’re making decisions unwisely and unilaterally.”

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