A coalition of workers at Meow Wolf Denver says it has garnered enough support among staff to form a union, making it the arts behemoth’s latest location to try to take the step.
More than 30 percent of workers have signed union cards, the group announced on Tuesday. They seek to join the Meow Wolf Workers Collective, a chapter of the Communication Workers of America, and begin bargaining with the Sante Fe-based company in the coming months over pay and working conditions.
Employment protections, higher wages, communication improvements and stronger discrimination and harassment protections are highest on the group’s list of demands, according to a statement on its website.
“The age of starving artists is over,” the statement said. “We are not against Meow Wolf, because we are Meow Wolf. Forming a union is an act of care, for ourselves and for those who work with us.”
Workers say they hope the move improves conditions for hundreds of custodians, live actors, box office attendants and other roles that staff the facility in the Sun Valley neighborhood. The organization’s Convergence Station exhibit opened its doors in September 2021 and recently logged its 1 millionth visitor.
The union push among staff launched last December, as workers at Meow Wolf’s flagship Santa Fe exhibit were bargaining their first contract. Denver workers saw it as an opportunity to follow suit, said Seth Palmer Harris, a creative operator.
“This is a company that’s growing very, very quickly,” Harris said. “I think it’s vital at this moment that [workers] be a part of how that change is happening and make sure that it is happening in a way that is good for the company and good for those who work for the company.”
Workers have yet to file a petition with federal regulators to hold a union election, though they could do so with 30 percent of workers signed on, a figure they say they have already reached. If the group files to hold an election, a majority of workers would have to agree to unionize before the group could start negotiating with Meow Wolf. They could officially organize that way, or the company could voluntarily recognize the group’s union.
The company, in a statement, said it “respects our employees’ right to organize.” It did not indicate whether it would voluntarily recognize the workers’ union, and said it had not officially recognized the Denver workers yet.
“We understand employees in Colorado have expressed intent to join the Communications Workers of America and MWWC, but at this moment in time, Meow Wolf has not received any official communication from the CWA,” the company said.
If past negotiations are any indication, workers may face a long battle.
Meow Wolf’s Santa Fe workers filed their intent to unionize back in 2020, and spent almost two years negotiating their first contract. Earlier this year, the union filed claims of unfair labor practices against the company in January after it allegedly required new employees to sign agreements upon hiring that they wouldn’t support the union drive.
The company also withheld “critical information” needed for the bargaining process, according to the complaint.
The company has denied the claims, and the complaint was ultimately dismissed. The two sides eventually finalized their first contract in April, which included pay raises and parental leave for employees, among other changes.
Regardless of the duration, the union expects its Denver campaign to mirror that of similar recent successful drives at other companies, such as Starbucks and Amazon, said Milagro Padilla, a campaign lead with CWA.
“It’s not old school anymore,” Padilla said. “We’ve realized that to build and maintain power, we’ve got to have the tools to do it. And unions are the best one that we have for working people.”
The surge in union interest among Colorado workers goes beyond Meow Wolf. Driven by a rising cost of living and feelings of discontent with how many customers and companies have treated workers throughout the pandemic, workers already this year have almost eclipsed the total number of election petitions filed in 2021.
As of early July, 26 petitions to hold union elections have been filed by Colorado workers, according to National Labor Relations Board data. A total of 29 were filed in all of 2021.
In 2020, just 13 were filed.
Meow Wolf workers say the next step in the process includes continuing to gather signed union cards. They will determine whether the group will file a petition for an election in the coming weeks.
Many workers say they plan to stay with the company for years to come.
After Nina Moldawsky started her job as a creative operator, she immediately fell in love with the performance element of it and interacting with visitors.
“I walk around pretending to be an alien most of my day,” she said. “It’s an amazing, wonderful job and it’s attracted a lot of us who work there who are artists.”
When organizing started in December, she chose to support it because she wants to see more accountability for management and improved communication from leaders, she said.
“Meow Wolf started as an artist collective and so this is kind of like maintaining that status,” she said.
Morale has seen a boost since the push began as well, Harris said.
“Everybody has a little bit of an extra bounce in their step,” he said. “Just seeing that has filled me with joy and anticipation for what’s next and for a positive future.”