Exploratorium layoffs draw protest

About 80 workers and activists rallied outside of the Exploratorium today on San Francisco’s Pier 15 to protest a round of layoffs that will take place at the museum next week.

On Oct. 9, the museum will lay off 30 workers, 18 of them unionized employees, in an attempt to cut expenses, according to museum officials.

Museum officials said they announced the layoffs to its staff about a month ago, giving them 30 days notice.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents about 200 workers at the museum, led today’s protest.

Kevin Boyd, a science writer and president of the union’s chapter at the museum, said in a statement:

“These layoffs are not only unfair, but will not solve root problems of mismanagement and lack of accountability on the part of our leadership. … Those at the top responsible for past mistakes in budgeting and planning should be held accountable — not those of us who have no say in those decisions, work hard every day for the museum and are already just trying to get by.”

The last round of layoffs took place in 2013, as the museum was preparing to move from the Palace of Fine Arts to its current location at the pier, union officials said.

At the time of those layoffs, the museum employed about 400 people. Currently, the museum employs about 600 people, museum officials said.

Chairman of the Board of Directors George Cogan said:

“The past two years have been a period of amazing growth for the organization. We are still adjusting to the implications of the changes since our move to the piers and even though our revenues have doubled since before the move, expenses have grown more.”

Union officials allege the museum’s reasoning for the layoffs doesn’t add up when compared to what corporate managers are paid. According to union officials, five top executives are paid more than $200,000 each, with outgoing Executive Director Dennis Bartels making over $410,000 this year in base salary alone — a $100,000 increase from the 2014 fiscal year.

The SEIU says the average union museum worker makes about $45,000 yearly.

Museum officials, however, dispute those numbers and said the figures are inaccurate.

“The narrative here is rich versus poor, but the reality is the average employee at the museum makes $80,000. We really don’t fit into that narrative, but the union is using it anyway,” Cogan said, adding that Bartels’ annual salary is $380,000, $30,000 less than the number the union provided.

Cogan, who said he was surprised by today’s rally, noted that many of the protestors were made up of “some employees, but mostly people who don’t work here and union members from other organizations”:

“It’s disappointing that they’re using this wonderful institution to further their agenda.”

SEIU Local 1021 spokeswoman Jennifer Smith Camejo said:

“Whether their finances are as bad as they’re claiming, they’re projecting losses. This is just another case of people at the top taking care of their own and passing up people who are just getting by.”

Boyd said:

“There are plenty of things management and the board could do on their end to show they are taking responsibility for any bad decisions they have made. … They could cut the pay for those responsible for the circumstances they say are forcing layoffs. Instead, they are basically kicking hardworking and often underpaid staff to the curb.”

In addition to the layoffs, the museum is also cutting summer camps and programs for children, such as the Girls Science Institute, which promotes science literacy for young girls ages 10 to 12.