More than half the people working at Convergence Station in Denver say they want to join the Meow Wolf Workers Collective and create a union bargaining unit for the massive immersive art installation.
The workers of Meow Wolf Convergence Station announced their intention to join the Communications Workers of America on Tuesday, declaring “the age of the starving artist is over.”
The union has not yet been formally voted on by Denver workers, but organizing committee member Seth Palmer Harris said they hope to vote to unionize in one to two months and expect the bargaining unit to be 228 people.
Workers began discussing unionizing in December, after Meow Wolf management in Denver cut their hours just enough to put their eligibility for health insurance and other benefits at risk.
Erin Barnes, a spokeswoman for Meow Wolf’s Denver location, said the company’s leadership team hasn’t been officially notified of the intent to unionize workers. “An email from our leadership that was sent out to the entire organization said, in summary, we absolutely welcome working with the union and we respect everybody’s right to use their voice.”
Denver is the second bargaining unit to emerge from Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Meow Wolf. The immersive arts and entertainment company has grown rapidly in the last six years, adding installations in Las Vegas and Denver. Last month, it announced plans for a fourth and fifth exhibitions in Grapevine and Houston, Texas.
Workers in Santa Fe started organizing in late 2019 and on Oct. 20, 2020, 130 employees voted to create a bargaining unit under the Communications Workers of America. They successfully negotiated a contract 17 months later.
“We were able to make sure that the artists who really make Meow Wolf work, because it’s the stuff that they’re creating, are paid fully. They were paid very little for what they were doing,” said Milagro Padilla, a CWA official who helped organize the bargaining units in Santa Fe and Denver. “And we were able to fix a lot of that through the contract. A lot of them saw $20,000-a-year raises.”
Under the new contract, the annual salary for full-time employees in Santa Fe rose to $60,000. Some of the other benefits in the contract include overtime for salaried workers, doubled parental leave, layoff protections, pay equity and an hourly minimum wage of $18, about $5 an hour more than the standard minimum wage in Santa Fe.
Seth Palmer Harris is part of the union’s organizing committee and works as a creative operator at Meow Wolf in Denver. Creative operators are performers who help guide visitors through the network of installations that make up the transportation-themed Convergence Station. The 90,000-square-foot building, tucked between the Interstate 25 and Colfax Avenue viaducts, opened in September and since then has drawn more than 1 million visitors.
Harris said the contract negotiated by the union in Santa Fe helped boost the pay for people working at other Meow Wolf installations. “Anybody who was below that wage, either in Las Vegas or in Denver, was bumped to that. So there were quite a few accomplishments that came out of that initial contract negotiation.”
Convergence Station started talks with CWA and the Santa Fe bargaining unit in December, after Meow Wolf cut workers’ hours, said organizing committee member Sam Silverman, who also works as a creative operator.
“We were full-time employees going from having anywhere between 40 to 35 hours a week, down to often 33 to 29 hours a week, which is below the requirement for full-time employment,” Silverman said. “We were worried about losing our benefits.”
From then on, Padilla and CWA maintained communication, building relationships between the workers of Convergence Station and union organizers.
“Our organizing model was built on relationships and having one-on-one conversations with coworkers. And that’s what took time,” Padilla said. “Having a conversation with everybody in that building around what they wanted, what their vision was, and how we wanted to achieve that.”
The union’s announcement Tuesday included a mission statement Harris said sums up the intentions of MWWC.
“What the mission statement really boils down to is ensuring that Meow Wolf, which started as an artist collective, remains a collective and remains true to its founding principles,” Harris said.
The workers have not yet voted to unionize, and the bargaining unit has not yet been acknowledged by Meow Wolf. Still, Harris said workers are looking forward to negotiating for a wage increase and other benefits.
“It is very important in a place like Denver, which has so rapidly gotten expensive, that we negotiate wages that are reflective of the cost of living in Denver,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of discussion and planning, and all these things that have yet to be done.”
UPDATED: This story has been updated to include a press statement from the Meow Wolf Denver location.