SANTA FE, N.M. — Workers at a popular immersive arts entertainment project were voting Monday on whether to unionize under the Communications Workers of America umbrella, amid economic uncertainty linked to COVID-19.
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 — currently idled by a 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.
Meow Wolf has about 270 employees after laying off just over 200 workers in April amid aggressive state restrictions on businesses and furloughing more, even as it forges ahead with efforts to open venues in Las Vegas in early 2021 and Denver later next year. New Mexico still bans public gatherings of more than five people and places other restrictions at nonessential businesses.
Michael Wilson, a senior story editor and member of a preliminary collective bargaining group, said workers are conscious of pandemic-related economic challenges and want a stronger say on concerns ranging from racial and ethnic diversity in hiring to benefits packages and employee training.
“The union is not interested in bankrupting the company to get a pay bump,” said Wilson, noting that unionization requires a majority vote through anonymous electronic balloting. Results were pending.
The Communications Workers of America represents workers in a wide array of media outlets, including The Associated Press.
A representative for company management highlighted Meow Wolf’s $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.”
“We recognize and respect our employees’ right to organize,” the company said in a statement. “Whatever happens, it will not change the long term vision and mission we have shared with our employees. We do understand the critical issues that were raised during this process and are eager to work with all of our employees to improve communication and participation.”
In an email, company representative Maya Sarin said Meow Wolf is confident that its immersive art experiences and live events will rebound, noting that safety procedures and upgrades are being integrated.
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.