Employees unionize at upstart Meow Wolf arts venue

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In this Friday, July 14, 2017 file photo visitors explore Meow Wolf’s mazelike exhibition space in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Workers at a popular immersive arts entertainment project have approved the formation of a labor union under the Communications Workers of America umbrella.

Meow Wolf employee Michael Wilson said Tuesday that the move to unionize was approved by a majority of 130 eligible, rank-and-file employees by electronic balloting. He said the union bargaining unit, Meow Wolf Workers Collective, aims to negotiate a labor contract with company management within a year.

In this Friday, July 14, 2017 file photo customers roam the gift shop outside Meow Wolf’s mazelike exhibition space in Santa Fe, N.M. Workers at the popular immersive art entertainment project were voting Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, on whether to unionize under the Communications Workers of America umbrella, amid economic uncertainty linked to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

Born of a rag-tag arts collective, Meow Wolf coined a new brand of family entertainment with its “House of Eternal Return” exhibition in Santa Fe — idled by a statewide pandemic health order — that has doubled as an educational workshop for children and nightlife music venue. The central exhibit provides eye-popping psychedelic design work in a walk- and crawl-through exhibit of spiral stairs and unmarked passageways, organized loosely around a riddle involving an abandoned Victorian home.

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Wilson said the vote to unionize gives workers at a rapidly evolving startup company new assurances of stability in turbulent economic times.

“Starting today we are covered by labor laws for unions, which means we have a strong voice in terms of management and human resources,” said Wilson, a senior story editor. “It means that, as of today, workers are protected.”

Meow Wolf currently employs about 270 people after laying off more than 200 employees in April as the coronavirus rippled through the economy and a state health order shut down group entertainment venues.

Meow Wolf executives sounded a conciliatory note on unionization in a statement.

“Meow Wolf appreciates the varying points of view brought forward from the different perspectives within the bargaining unit and looks forward to working together … on policies and practices that will continue to ensure Meow Wolf is a great place to work,” the company announced. “Co-CEOs of Meow Wolf — Ali Rubinstein, Carl Christensen, and Jim Ward — also understand the importance of the healing process after such a disruptive journey.”

The company says it is forging ahead with plans to expand to new venues in Denver and Las Vegas next year. Employees there do not fall under this week’s vote to unionize.

The Communications Workers of America represents workers in a wide array of media outlets, including The Associated Press.

Meow Wolf managers have highlighted the company’s current $17 hourly minimum wage, comprehensive benefits and the recent addition of a “chief people officer who shares our commitment and passion for our diversity, equity and inclusion goals.”

The company earlier this year reached undisclosed settlement agreements to resolve workplace- and gender-discrimination lawsuits in state district court. Meow Wolf co-founder Vince Kadlubek, named as a defendant in the lawsuits, stepped down as CEO in October 2019.

Meow Wolf was among thousands of New Mexico businesses that received loans from the U.S. government as part of the massive effort to support the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak. Those loans can be forgiven if the businesses mostly use the money to continue paying workers.

The company previously received commitments of more than $2 million in state and city funds to offset job training and infrastructure investments.

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