SEATTLE, WA — A diverse group of employees at the Seattle Children's Museum said they were laid off this week after they stopped working in protest of management in June.
According to an open letter published online Monday, staff members "collectively suspended" work on June 1 after museum leadership removed public references to Black Lives Matter, telling employees it could hurt the museum's ability to fundraise.
From the letter:
On June 1st, 2020, the majority POC staff of the Seattle Children’s Museum collectively suspended our labor in direct reaction to museum leadership editing posts and deleting the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and all references to anti-racist education from public educational resource posts on Instagram and Facebook.
We conditionally suspended our labor while presenting clear actions to leadership that must be taken to gain any amount of trust with staff and with you, our community of families, schools, and organizations.
In response, SCM leadership cut communication with staff, and then at the end of June required staff to come collect (or have delivered) all of our personal belongings from museum offices.
The letter continues to say that employees waited to come forward with their story until it became clear that museum management would not take a "single meaningful action" to address their concerns. Employees said they have gone without pay for 50 days and were unable to collect unemployment until layoffs were announced via e-mail on Monday.
Workers wrote that the choice to delete references to Black Lives Matter was the final straw, but it follows a "history of documented incidents and concerns" employees have brought to leadership in the past.
"These concerns range from regular indignities, microaggressions, and institutional inequities to museum leadership disregarding our good faith concerns about the security or our facility and our safety. Each of us care deeply about the families in our community and we have put that love into our many years of collective work at the museum."
A section titled "Black Lives Matter" is now featured on the museum's webpage — it appears to have been created or updated within the last week. Earlier this month, the museum posted a statement in support of the movement on social media.
In a lengthy Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon, the museum responded directly to the open letter, aiming to "set the record straight about what has taken place."
"Last month, the Museum was involved in a social media incident where content centered around equity and educational resources was prematurely posted across our social media platforms.
Because the content dealt with sensitive topics and had been posted without typical discussion, review or approval from SCM leadership, it was revised and references to Black Lives Matter were temporarily removed until a wider group of Museum stakeholders could be consulted to ensure our messaging accurately represented our educational content.
We understand that many of our staff, our members, and some in the community felt personally hurt during an especially vulnerable time and we sincerely regret the pain this has caused.
Following this episode, the Museum’s Board has launched an investigation to better understand how the events transpired and what SCM leadership and staff could have done better. This investigation is ongoing and has included meeting with SCM team members and leadership to gather information and feedback."
The museum's statement goes on to say that staffing levels have been reduced in waves since the building closed from coronavirus restrictions in March.
"The most recent and long-scheduled layoff coincides with the exhaustion of our Paycheck Protection Program (PPP funds); this 9-week period of time was identified and communicated with staff at the beginning of the PPP period and is in no way tied to recent developments."
According to federal data released this month, the museum received between $150,000 and $350,000 in forgivable PPP loans.
Management's post concludes with a pledge to continue "ongoing robust conversations about equity and justice" and to "find racism within ourselves and within our organization."
The employees' letter closes by reiterating concerns that no changes will be made, and a caution that the pandemic would be blamed for staff cuts.
"Our hope in speaking the truth publicly is that the Seattle Children's Museum will become and remain a space that is truly safe, accessible, and welcoming for all children and families in our community."