Open Letter Calling SFMOMA Leadership to make human-centered decisions amidst this crisis

Open Letter Calling SFMOMA Leadership to make human-centered decisions amidst this crisis

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To Neal Benezra, the Executive Team, and the Board of Trustees: 


The world has changed, and it may be years until museum visitorship reaches pre-COVID levels. In the coming year we will be forced to alter the size and breadth of our program. This, understandably, will affect the workloads of museum staff. 


Staff are understanding of this new reality, but we ask that you reconsider your approach to impending layoffs and restructuring. Consider carefully the guidelines set forth by the Strategic Plan, and make equitable decisions that will ensure the health and safety of our colleagues and their families during this pandemic. We’ve been told that prior to arriving at your decision for a group layoff, all other options were exhausted, but we, as SFMOMA staff, beg to differ and propose an alternative.


In solidarity with and respect for our colleagues, staff at all levels have offered to decrease their hours or pay, to share what workload exists in order to preserve all of our jobs. This is a proven strategy, used by forward-thinking businesses to survive downturns without layoffs*. It is our duty as a civic institution not to contribute to the unemployment crisis. Instead, allow us in the “SFMOMA Family” to keep our colleagues employed, and their health insurance intact, for as long as possible during this pandemic.


For years, overworked individuals among SFMOMA staff have asked management for a strategic reorganization—one that could have been done gracefully during a time of historically low unemployment rates. Unfortunately, the museum appears to have waited for a crisis to cover mass layoffs and reorganization. Some overworked staff members who would have welcomed a considered reorganization a year ago will not tolerate layoffs that put our colleagues at risk in the midst of a pandemic, during a time of record high unemployment.


Our Strategic Plan states that we are a human-centered, community-driven museum, and our staff embodies those values: we are inclusive, brave, empathic, and passionate. We have not seen those same values reflected by our leadership during this crisis. The Executive Team is proposing to lay off staff while continuing to take home unreasonably large salaries. Even after taking a 50% pay cut, Neal Benezra earns more in one month than a full-time frontline staff member earns in an entire year. At the start of this crisis the top 20 earners took a meager 10% salary cut, but those cuts are set to end at the same time that layoffs are scheduled to be announced. 


We state these disparities in pay not to foster divisions, but out of our interest in creating a truly sustainable and equitable workplace in which all can stand in solidarity with one another, bolstering our collective love of the art and the museum.


Neal, in an interview from 2009 praising you for your handling of another economic crisis, Olga Viso said, “[Neal is] a great long-view, strategic thinker. Watching Neal, I learned the importance of balancing impulse with patience.”** We hope that this remains true, and that you will exercise patience by allowing staff to take progressive pay cuts so that we can collectively reassess our financial position at a later date.


As we prepare to mount a monumental exhibition of Diego Rivera, a champion of worker’s rights, let us not forget the responsibility we each have to workers of all levels, backgrounds, and expertise. Let us hold ourselves to our values of empathy and inclusion as we move through these unprecedented times. 


Signed, 

Concerned SFMOMA Staff


*https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/24/business/economy/coronavirus-pay-cuts.html 

**https://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/arts/artsspecial/19SANFRAN.html