Manitoba Museum delivers layoff notice to 40 employees, won't open Monday

More than 40 employees at the Manitoba Museum were given layoff notices Friday amid uncertainty about funding for this fiscal year.

Says it may not be able to meet payroll 'this year and beyond,' due to COVID-19

The Manitoba Museum delivered layoff notices to its employees Friday because there is uncertainty about the amount of funding coming in for the fiscal year. (Google Street View)

More than 40 employees at the Manitoba Museum were given layoff notices Friday amid uncertainty about funding for this fiscal year.

The move comes after the museum laid off 39 part-time employees, both temporary and permanent, in early April, according to museum executive director Claudette Leclerc.

Many of the workers affected by Friday's layoffs were full-timers, Leclerc said.

"It was a difficult decision," she said. "I've been executive director for 23 years — this is my extended family.

"I cannot stress enough how heartbreaking it is, and how the museum would not be what it is today without the leadership and expertise of such an incredible staff."

In addition to the layoffs, Leclerc and her senior staff are taking a 20-per-cent pay cut, "but we're not working any less hours," she said. 

Claudette Leclerc, executive director of the Manitoba Museum, says senior staff are also taking a 20-per-cent pay cut in addition to the layoffs announced Friday.

Leclerc said the layoffs and pay cuts stem from general uncertainty about the museum's future cash flow.

The museum closed in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in lost revenues at the end of last fiscal year and no revenue in the new fiscal year, which started April 1, Leclerc said, noting fundraising is also down.

"You just don't know how to project what those … revenues are going to be for the rest of the year," she said. 

The museum submitted an application to the federal wage subsidy program on April 27, Leclerc said, but won't know if they're eligible until May 4 at the earliest, as the review process typically takes between seven and 10 days.

Leclerc said the federal funding, which covers 75 per cent of wages, "is not going to save the Manitoba Museum from the need for layoffs."

The museum is also waiting to hear about the status of its provincial grant, which normally funds about 53 per cent of the museum's operating budget, she said.

"Those major factors — variables outside of our control — are affecting our finances," she said.

The museum is not-for-profit and must run on a balanced budget every year, says Leclerc, and nearly three-quarters of the museum's budget is spent on payroll.

"What the public sees … is just the tip of the iceberg," she said. "So much of the work that we do is below the waterline."

"We do primary research, community research, caring for 2.9 million specimens and artifacts, so … that's what feeds into what's above the waterline, which is new exhibits, new programs."

The museum can operate with a minimum of 36 staff, working at 60 per cent of their normal work week — 21 hours. But Leclerc noted the workers "can't get their work done in 21 hours."

This giant ground sloth, displayed at the Manitoba Museum, is one of the many artifacts that needs to be cared for by museum staff. (Haskel Greenfield/University of Manitoba)

As more financial information comes in, Leclerc said the museum will adjust its staffing plan.

All museum staff will be employed until June 26.

Manitoba Museum employees are unionized, represented by the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.

In a statement, MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said the layoffs are troubling.

"The province needs to sustain Manitoba's cultural gems so that we still have them when this pandemic is over," Gawronsky said in the statement.

"Manitobans' access to the museum's valuable collection of our heritage, culture, and history must not be put at risk."

Museum not opening Monday

Phase 1 of the Manitoba government's reopening plan allows museums to open as of May 4, but the Manitoba Museum will not be opening right away because it must ensure its galleries adhere to health protocols still in place, for both visitors and staff.

Leclerc told CBC News that the planetarium and science exhibit cannot reopen under the Phase 1 health guidelines of the province's reopening plan.

Another issue the museum is facing is getting personal protective equipment. The museum has hand sanitizer, but it has no gloves, Leclerc says, because the museum donated its supply to the province for front-line health-care workers who needed it more.

"While gloves and masks are not a requirement of the province … as an employer, I want to ensure that my staff feel safe returning to the workplace," she said. 

Also, according to Leclerc, the museum's property is owned by the Manitoba Centennial Centre. They are in charge of cleaning the museum, and are apparently facing trouble getting the required sanitizing and protective supplies.

"I can't reopen until they have the capacity to do the cleaning," she said.

The Manitoba Museum is not the only well-known museum keeping shut on Monday.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is also not opening on Monday, May 4. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Earlier this week, Jacques Lavergne of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights said, despite the excitement of being allowed to open, there are still "lots of considerations to be made" in terms of safety, and how to manage visitors once the museum eventually opens.

Understanding how many people can be in a gallery at one time, timed-ticketing — giving visitors a time limit to be in the space — and giving visitors screen pens so they don't have to touch digital and interactive displays, are some things the museum will be exploring, said Lavergne.

Lavergne said he can see the museum opening come summertime.

With files from Gemma Peralta and Cameron MacIntosh


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