Just this year, dozens of worker collectives have filed to unionize in the Denver Metro Area, spanning a range of company types and locations including UPS, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. The most recent to gain wide attention: Meow Wolf Convergence Station.
As organized labor continues to see growing adoption in the service industry, professionals in the immersive experience space are taking action of their own. In 2008, the original Meow Wolf opened in Santa Fe, New Mexico — then, a simple, noncommercial art installation. What started as an experimental art collective among friends grew into a multi-million dollar corporation following the opening of House of Eternal Return, a large-scale interactive exhibit in Santa Fe. Additional locations have since opened in Las Vegas and Denver. Meow Wolf’s attractions are wildly popular, seeing millions of visitors each year. However, as Meow Wolf’s enterprise scaled, workers felt left behind in the process.
Meow Wolf Workers Collective
In 2020, workers in the Santa Fe Meow Wolf began the process of working towards union representation, meeting resistance from their employer at first. Contract negotiations between Santa Fe union workers and Meow Wolf were agreed to and ratified in April 2022. Notable provisions include: minimum yearly salary and wage increases, a minimum starting salary of $60,000 for all artists hired and adjusted minimum salaries of $60,000 for current artists, a minimum wage of $18 for hourly workers and parental leave doubled from six to 12 weeks.
Its Denver counterparts followed in late 2021 with discussions among creative operators — the staff who interact with guests as they explore Convergence Station. In less than a year, Denver organizers moved from online discussions about collective representation to a formal recognition of their union from Meow Wolf.
Following House of Eternal Return, workers at Convergence Station are working to leverage their collective voice through union representation.
Building A Collective Voice
In December, just months after opening Convergence Station, creative operators found out they would receive significant reductions to their hours during a company meeting. Many employees who worked full-time hours received new schedules for 25 to 30 hours. The announcement sparked surprise and frustration, leading staff to create a Discord to start the conversation around organized labor. Organizers spent the first half of 2022 building support, collecting union cards until they reached a majority and filing with the National Board of Labor Relations.
By July 5, Convergence Station workers reached 70% approval out of 230 workers for bargaining units. After requesting and confirming a card count, Meow Wolf formally recognized their union on August 1. Denver Meow Wolf employees will be represented by the Meow Wolf Workers Collective (MWWC), based in New Mexico. MWWC also represents Santa Fe union members and falls under the Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7055. Now, two of Meow Wolf’s three locations have union representation. Meow Wolf’s second location, Omega Mart in Las Vegas, is not unionized.
Denver MWWC workers and Meow Wolf are in the midst of contract negotiations, which are expected to last several months. Denver union members were met with much less resistance from Meow Wolf than Santa Fe workers.
“We look forward to working with the Union to find common ground as we begin the collective bargaining process,” said Erin Barnes, Public Relations Manager, Meow Wolf.
What’s Next For Convergence Station
In a letter signed by 70 Convergence Station workers and sent to Meow Wolf on July 5, employees expressed that they are not choosing to unionize in spite of working as artists for Meow Wolf. Instead, they see the success of employees and the success of Meow Wolf as the same.
“The MWWC in New Mexico has proven that collaboration helps everyone thrive. We are not against Meow Wolf, because we are Meow Wolf. Forming a union is an act of care, for ourselves and those who work with us. We want to continue to bring radical, inspiring art to life and while we also build the workplace we dream of. To do that, we must unionize,” writes members of the MWWC in an online letter.
The successful unionization of Convergence Station employees may offer a glimpse of hope for other immersive experience professionals in Denver looking to build a collective voice. The full impact of Meow Wolf workers’ organized labor in Denver will take shape over the course of multiple years.
“Change will require time, effort, collaboration, listening and creativity. It always has. But in spite of all the work ahead we deeply, genuinely, passionately believe in this place and what we do every day. We ask Meow Wolf to let us join the conversation as we grow stronger together,” as written in their online letter.
Editor’s Note: A prior version of this article stated that Meow Wolf did not reply when asked for an interview. Due to the quick turnaround of this breaking story, Meow Wolf’s team wasn’t able to notify the proper parties before the original publishing of this article. This article has been updated to include Meow Wolf’s comment.