Cultural Institutions Cashed In.

Workers Got Sold Out

AFSCME Cultural Workers United (AFSCME CWU) analyzed federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan data from 228 of the biggest loan recipients to assess whether cultural institutions truly prioritized their workers during the pandemic.

Institutions with large endowments and multimillion-dollar budgets grabbed hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loans and grants to fill their coffers, then tossed their workers to the curb. Those most affected worked on the front lines of guest services, admissions, retail sales, education, maintenance and security, among others. As a result, many staff who directly served the public were furloughed or laid off, with Black, Indigenous and other people of color disproportionately suffering the impact.

Many of those same institutions even ended 2020 with budget surpluses, including 67% of art and history museums. While museums were raking it in, thousands of workers remain out of work.

AFSCME Cultural Workers United (CWU) is calling on policymakers to protect workers’ voices. Museums who accept public funds must use them to retain and invest in their workers. In exchange for receiving public dollars, they must also certify that they will not deter workers from joining and forming a union, which is the most effective way to hold institutions accountable.

Illa Caira
“When the zoo insisted on increasing our health care costs even amid a pandemic, we used our union voice to push back. We knew the zoo received millions of dollars in public funding to assist the workforce, and we held them accountable to it at the bargaining table. At the end of the day, we held the line on health care costs and even won a bonus to provide a degree of relief during a tough year for working people and our communities.” Illa Caira,
Animal Keeper II, Buffalo Zoo
AFSCME Local 1000

Supporting cultural workers is an investment in the arts and institutions that enrich our communities. As civic institutions, cultural organizations must use public funds to protect and invest in the workers who provide educational programming to kids and adults, protect and care for animals and art, and broaden all our horizons.

Read the Report

With 35,900 jobs lost in the cultural sector nationwide, AFSCME Cultural Workers United (AFSCME CWU) is calling for cultural institutions to be held accountable and to ensure that public money is used to protect workers who provide vital public services to communities across the country.

Fill out the request form to download a full copy of AFSCME CWU’s Accountability Report.

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