228 arts institutions laid off 28% of workers after receiving PPP loans, study finds

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The primary The goal of the Paycheque Protection Program (PPP), approved by the U.S. Congress at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, was to help affected businesses retain their workforce through prolonged shutdowns and increasing revenue losses. But a new report says some of the most important cultural institutions swiftly laid off workers at the first opportunity after receiving more than $ 1 billion combined in forgivable loans and taxpayer-funded grants.

Released last week by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the report analyzed federal data, audited financial statements and media reports for thousands of museums, zoos and botanical gardens. He found that of the $ 1.6 billion given to about 7,500 cultural institutions eligible for PPP loans, nearly half of the money ($ 771 million) went to just 228 beneficiaries. These same 288 institutions have collectively laid off more than 14,400 employees, or at least 28% of their workforce.

Museums have reportedly been among the hardest hit during the pandemic. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) estimated in an investigation that closed museums in the United States lost at least $ 33 million a day during the lockdown, racking up combined losses of several billion. In a analysis As of October 2020, AAM also reported that 53% of museums had laid off or put staff on leave. Most affected by the cuts were low-paid staff working in frontline services, education, maintenance and security. Many of these workers are people of color.

However, the AFSCME report found that not all museums behaved so badly during the pandemic. Indeed, an analysis of 69 cultural institutions with available financial data revealed that 67% of them ended fiscal year (FY) 2020 with operating surpluses.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA), which received $ 3.3 million in PPP loans, laid off 97 workers during the pandemic despite ending fiscal 2020 with a surplus of $ 2.3 million . Nearby, the Los Angeles County Natural History Museums ended fiscal 2020 with an operating surplus of $ 23.9 million after receiving a P3 loan of $ 4.8 million. And yet, it put its 127 part-time employees on leave from March 2020 to the end of December 2020.

The Museum of Science in Boston was initially too large to qualify for the P3 program, which was intended for institutions with 500 or fewer employees. After laying off 309 workers during the pandemic – nearly half of its workforce – it qualified for the next round of loans and received $ 4.7 million in 2021.

“Thanks to their massive endowments and their dependence on wealthy donors, these large institutions already had the financial resources to withstand the pandemic-related closures that many of their smaller counterparts lacked,” the report said.

Unions have been a major factor in defending workers’ rights during the pandemic, the report adds. (Its researchers note that “many institutions are only partially organized and the CWU lacks bargaining unit data for many of them. So we actually underestimate the role of unions in preventing layoffs. ”)

Unionized workers have suffered an average of 28% fewer downsizing than non-unionized workers and have been granted recall rights during layoffs, health and safety committees to address concerns related to COVID-19 and the ability to negotiate a risk premium.

But the organization has its limits: Although plagued by anti-union allegations, the Philadelphia Museum of Art received a $ 5.1 million PPP loan despite the dismissal of 127 workers during the pandemic. The union continues to express concerns, testifying that workers are overworked with a reduced workforce.

“Not only have billions of public money not stopped museums from carrying out massive layoffs throughout the pandemic, but museum management has also failed to prioritize their workers and, in fact, , has disproportionately targeted their lowest paid workers, ”the report concludes.

In a recommendation section, it calls to elected officials to spend the Law on the Protection of the Right to Organize (PRO), which would establish a national right to organize for workers in the public sector. The report also calls on museums to publicly disclose how they are using taxpayer money and to prioritize the interests of their workers over “exorbitant director salaries, expansion plans or buying art during an economic crisis”.

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