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An atmosphere of ‘fear and despair’ at Field Museum as staff await news of possible job cuts

The Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry have announced coronavirus-related layoffs.

The Field Museum’s Stanley Hall
The Field Museum’s Stanley Hall. Some staff are concerned management isn’t doing enough to avoid expected layoffs.
Sun-Times file

Hoping to avoid the fate of several other major cash-strapped Chicago cultural institutions, workers at the Field Museum this week delivered a list of demands to museum management, including asking administrators to shoulder a greater portion of the financial burden to avoid layoffs.

“People are terrified. We don’t know who is going to still be around in a few days,” said Roger Tuan, a web developer at the Field and a co-organizer behind a petition seeking, among other things, a moratorium on job cuts.

Tuan said the staff have been told job cuts are coming, as well as pay cuts, possibly as soon as Friday. About half of the museum’s approximately 400 staff have signed the petition, Tuan said.

Museums across the city have been closed since mid-March as the coronavirus spread in Illinois. Both the Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry have announced coronavirus-related layoffs in recent weeks.

But Tuan said management, including outgoing CEO Richard Lariviere, should be willing to take a deeper pay cut than the museum’s lower wage workers.

“At some of our peer institutions across the country, we’ve seen leadership take cuts from 25, 30 — all the way up to 60% in some cases,” he said.

At a town hall meeting with staff in mid-May, Lariviere was asked whether he’d be willing to take a deeper cut. He replied it would be a “meaningless gesture,” said Tuan, who attended the meeting.

“I don’t think anybody doubts the need to make sacrifices. What we are asking for is for leadership to [accept a greater ] share in our sacrifices,” he said.

Ray DeThorne, the Field’s chief marketing officer, said the petition demonstrates the staff’s passion and commitment.

“They care deeply about the organization, about science, and about each other. The Executive Team appreciates that they reached out with an offer to help,” DeThorne said in an email Wednesday.

“We are facing an incredibly fluid, complex and frankly difficult situation with no clear and easy solution. We have been carefully weighing options on how to ensure the health and safety of our employees, create an optimal plan for reopening to the public and considering both through the lens of the long-term needs of the institution we all love.”

Tuan said workers have been asking management for a clear picture of the museum’s financial picture.

“From what we can see, the museum entered [the closure] in a relatively strong financial state,” Tuan. “That was based on the 2018 financials and we’ve been asking them for more current data so we can better look at the situation. They’ve been pretty secretive about everything, refusing to tell us exactly what the financials are right now and what we need to cut.”