Gallery griev­ances

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PEGGY MCGLONE

Mu­seum guards com­plain of hos­til­ity.

There’s a seren­ity inside the Na­tional Gallery of Art, where sun-dap­pled mar­ble halls con­nect for­mal gal­leries and vis­i­tors en­joy mas­ter­pieces by Rem­brandt, Cézanne, Pi­casso and Pol­lock un­der the watch­ful gaze of uni­formed guards.

Be­neath the calm, how­ever, sim­mer long-sup­pressed frus­tra­tion and anger on the part of some of the se­cu­rity force. For years, the mu­seum’s gallery pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers have com­plained of a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment fos­tered by man­agers who rule with a take-it-or-leave-it men­tal­ity, ac­cord­ing to 17 cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cers at the pres­ti­gious Washington mu­seum.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment, var­i­ous in­stances of dis­crim­i­na­tion and re­tal­i­a­tion are among the top com­plaints, ac­cord­ing to these em­ploy­ees. They de­scribe su­per­vi­sors who are in­ept at sched­ul­ing, a work­force that is chron­i­cally un­der­staffed and man­agers who are not held ac­count­able for their ac­tions.

The chief of the divi­sion, Mark E. Wal­lace, said he could not com­ment on spe­cific al­le­ga­tions or in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. “But what I can tell you is we take any ha­rass­ment or dis­crim­i­na­tion claims ex­tremely se­ri­ously,” he said.

The Of­fice of Pro­tec­tion Ser­vices is the mu­seum’s se­cond-largest divi­sion, ac­count­ing for al­most one-third of all em­ploy­ees. Sev­eral guards say that the depart­ment fos­ters a cli­mate of fear and in­tim­i­da­tion and that those who com­plain — whether by email­ing se­nior staff, voic­ing con­cerns dur­ing daily roll call or fil­ing for­mal com­plaints with the gallery’s equal em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­nity of­fi­cer — of­ten suf­fer re­tal­i­a­tion.

“They treat us like we’re bad peo­ple,” said Al­ber­tus-Hugo Van den Bo­gaard, a 65-year-old Army vet­eran hired 16 months ago. “Peo­ple are in­tim­i­dated. They will not make much noise.”

Many guards say man­age­ment is more fo­cused on si­lenc­ing com­plain­ers than on ad­dress­ing the prob­lems they raise: A

“They treat us like we’re bad peo­ple. Peo­ple are in­tim­i­dated. They will not make much noise.” Al­ber­tus-Hugo Van den Bo­gaard, an Army vet­eran hired 16 months ago

guard who com­plained about a su­per­vi­sor’s sched­ul­ing er­ror was later for­mally rep­ri­manded by that su­per­vi­sor; an­other was told that any­one who speaks to the me­dia could be fired. One fe­male guard who ac­cused a su­per­vi­sor of in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual lan­guage found her­self in a train­ing class led by her al­leged ha­rasser, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cer and two guards who cor­rob­o­rated her ac­count. Van den Bo­gaard said he is be­ing tar­geted for a prior med­i­cal con­di­tion that grew worse af­ter a year of stand­ing on the hard floors. He has asked his con­gress­man to in­ter­vene.

“The gallery does not tol­er­ate ret­ri­bu­tion against an em­ployee for hav­ing raised con­cerns and has strict poli­cies in place to pro­hibit re­tal­i­a­tion,” spokes­woman An­a­beth Guthrie said.

Last sum­mer, Dennis Hairston sent an email to Wal­lace with the sub­ject line “An­other Sleeper” and a pho­to­graph of an in­ves­ti­ga­tor, a higher-level mem­ber of the Pro­tec­tion Ser­vice divi­sion, asleep in the Cas­cade Cafe. He copied five oth­ers, in­clud­ing Di­rec­tor Earl “Rusty” Pow­ell III. It was not the first time Hairston had re­ported sleep­ing su­per­vi­sors, and he was frus­trated that man­age­ment didn’t ad­dress the prob­lem, he said. In Jan­uary, Hairston was sus­pended for three days without pay for un­pro­fes­sional con­duct and go­ing out­side the chain of com­mand for re­peat­edly email­ing Pow­ell in­stead of fol­low­ing ap­pro­pri­ate chan­nels. Hairston, who re­signed last month, said that in a meet­ing with Of­fice of Pro­tec­tion Ser­vices As­sis­tant Chief Ge­nia Reaves, he cited a rule that per­mits of­fi­cers to con­tact the “most se­nior mem­ber of an or­ga­ni­za­tion” in cer­tain cir­cum­stances.

Reaves dis­agreed with Hairston’s read­ing of the rule. “The ‘most se­nior mem­ber of an or­ga­ni­za­tion’ refers to the most se­nior mem­ber of [the Of­fice of Pro­tec­tion Ser­vices], Chief Wal­lace,” Reaves wrote in the let­ter to Hairston af­firm­ing his sus­pen­sion. “Your in­ter­pre­ta­tion that this per­mits you to con­tact Mr. Pow­ell with work­place con­cerns is not rea­son­able.”

Gallery pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers are the pub­lic face of the Na­tional Gallery of Art. Stand­ing in the gal­leries, they di­rect vis­i­tors to ex­hi­bi­tions, re­strooms and restau­rants while warn­ing them away from the price­less art­work. Many guards say these in­ter­ac­tions are the high­light of the job.

Over­all, the guards de­scribe a strat­i­fied, un­com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment with a highly paid and pre­dom­i­nantly white se­nior man­age­ment team and a se­cu­rity force that is mostly mi­nor­ity.

Although most of its em­ploy­ees are fed­eral work­ers, the Na­tional Gallery of Art is not a fed­eral in­sti­tu­tion. In 1936, fi­nancier An­drew Mel­lon of­fered to give the coun­try his art col­lec­tion and money to build a mu­seum to house it. His gift was ac­cepted by Congress, and in 1941 the mu­seum opened on the Mall. It op­er­ates as a pri­vate non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, rais­ing money from pri­vate donors to sup­ple­ment its fed­eral ap­pro­pri­a­tion. The Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion is a sim­i­lar pri­vate-pub­lic hy­brid.

The mu­seum’s hy­brid struc­ture cre­ates ten­sions in the work­force, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral em­ploy­ees. While 82 per­cent are fed­eral em­ploy­ees — hired and paid ac­cord­ing to fed­eral guide­lines — the re­main­ing em­ploy­ees are paid with pri­vate funds and there­fore aren’t con­strained by fed­eral rules. Mu­seum ex­ec­u­tives through­out the coun­try earn sig­nif­i­cantly more than fed­eral em­ploy­ees, and by us­ing pri­vate funds to pay their salaries, the gallery is able to hire out­side the gov­ern­ment re­stric­tions.

The guards are fed­eral em­ploy­ees, and their av­er­age salary was $47,076 in 2016, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral-Pay, an in­de­pen­dent ser­vice that tracks fed­eral em­ploy­ment. The av­er­age salary of all the gallery’s fed­eral em­ploy­ees was $76,500, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral-Pay. The pro­tec­tion depart­ment’s lead­ers, Wal­lace and Reaves, both African Amer­i­can, are fed­eral em­ploy­ees, too, and Wal­lace is among the mu­seum’s 100 high­est-paid fed­eral work­ers. He earned $169,522 in 2016.

In com­par­i­son, the gallery’s top five earn­ers each made sig­nif­i­cantly more than the U.S. pres­i­dent. Their av­er­age salary in 2016 was $697,185, ac­cord­ing to the mu­seum’s tax fil­ings. The salaries are com­pa­ra­ble to those of se­nior ex­ec­u­tives at other art mu­se­ums.

Sev­eral guards say the so­cioe­co­nomic dis­par­ity ex­ac­er­bates the power dy­namic. “Most of the guards are try­ing to [sup­port] their fam­i­lies,” said Clifton Leach, who worked as a Na­tional Gallery guard for seven years. “When they come to the point of los­ing a job be­cause they stand up, they lay down.”

Ray­nard Forte re­signed in Oc­to­ber af­ter nine years, say­ing the job had no up­ward mo­bil­ity. “I’ve seen Rusty Pow­ell on many oc­ca­sions,” Forte said. “He does not talk to guards. He’ll walk right past you. It’s cul­tural.”

A mem­ber of the pro­tec­tion staff who said the gallery was run by “good old boys” said that “there are two sets of rules — rules for them and rules for us.”

The four high­est-paid ex­ec­u­tives are men, while 19 of the 37 se­nior lead­ers are women, ac­cord­ing to Guthrie.

Work­place con­cerns are not lim­ited to the guards, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments and in­ter­views with staffers, most of whom re­quested anonymity for fear of re­tal­i­a­tion. More than a dozen em­ploy­ees — in­clud­ing guards, re­tail work­ers and oth­ers — have filed dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suits against the mu­seum in the past 15 years; some cases were dropped, and some were set­tled. In ad­di­tion, the most re­cent fed­eral em­ployee sur­vey re­vealed mu­seum-wide com­plaints re­gard­ing merit-based pro­mo­tions and poli­cies for im­prov­ing di­ver­sity and pre­vent­ing fa­voritism. Last year, just 43 per­cent of gallery em­ploy­ees who com­pleted the sur­vey agreed that “se­nior lead­ers gen­er­ate high lev­els of mo­ti­va­tion and com­mit­ment.”

In 2017, gallery em­ploy­ees re­ported 17 in­ci­dents to the fed­eral Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, of which five con­tin­ued as for­mal com­plaints, ac­cord­ing to Guthrie. Sev­eral em­ploy­ees told The Washington Post that they think the num­ber would be higher but that su­per­vi­sors dis­cour­age them from fil­ing. That’s pos­si­ble, said em­ploy­ment at­tor­ney Kevin E. Byrnes, who rep­re­sented a gallery worker in a law­suit against Pow­ell. Although not a fed­eral em­ployee, Pow­ell was de­fended by an as­sis­tant U.S. at­tor­ney, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

“The gov­ern­ment is sup­posed to be the model em­ployer un­der EEO law, but the model is bro­ken,” said Byrnes, who em­pha­sized the dif­fi­culty of win­ning these cases. “Cur­rent fed­eral em­ploy­ment law, and the man­ner in which it is en­forced, is both a steeplechase and a mine­field. As an em­ployee you have to clear all the hur­dles, and they have to clear one.”

In the case of Hairston, the for­mer gallery guard who was sus­pended for re­port­ing a sleep­ing su­per­vi­sor, divi­sion chief Wal­lace said an out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tor was brought in to re­view the al­le­ga­tion. The case has been closed, but the gallery would not dis­close its out­come.

“What the of­fi­cers don’t see be­cause of the chain of com­mand is that we do take ac­tion,” Wal­lace said, speak­ing in gen­eral about his han­dling of in­ter­nal com­plaints. “It wouldn’t be ap­pro­pri­ate for man­age­ment to tell the of­fi­cer how a su­per­vi­sor is be­ing treated.”

Guthrie said the pro­tec­tion divi­sion “is a for­mal law en­force­ment en­vi­ron­ment” and chain of com­mand “is of utmost im­por­tance for rea­sons of safety and pro­to­col.” She listed other ways for em­ploy­ees to reg­is­ter com­plaints, in­clud­ing a whistle­blower hot­line and an al­ter­na­tive dis­pute res­o­lu­tion process. “None of these pro­cesses in­clude con­tact­ing the di­rec­tor,” she said in an email.

High turnover and chronic un­der­staffing are other prob­lems, the guards say. The at­tri­tion rate for the en­tire depart­ment, in­clud­ing armed se­cu­rity of­fi­cers and su­per­vi­sors, was 18 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to Guthrie. In com­par­i­son, the at­tri­tion rate for the 700 se­cu­rity per­son­nel at the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion was 10 per­cent, a Smith­so­nian spokes­woman said. Both guard forces are paid ac­cord­ing to the same fed­eral guide­lines.

To sup­ple­ment the force, the Na­tional Gallery hired an out­side se­cu­rity firm from late 2016, when it re­opened its ren­o­vated East Build­ing, un­til Jan­uary. De­spite the added staff, the guards say, their su­per­vi­sors threat­ened them with loss of pay if they did not re­port to work on Thanks­giv­ing and the day af­ter. Even those with a doc­tor’s note (a re­quire­ment of their col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing agree­ment) were docked, ac­cord­ing to two em­ploy­ees.

Van den Bo­gaard, the 65-year-old Army vet­eran, said he has filed the re­quired doc­tor’s forms for a light­duty post for half the work­day but in­stead his su­per­vi­sors have sent him home most days af­ter four hours, re­quir­ing him to use his leave time un­til it ran out. He has not had a full salary for weeks.

“The pa­per­work was ap­proved by HR. Ev­ery­one knows about it,” said Van den Bo­gaard, who was hon­ored last year with a cus­tomer ser­vice award. “This is not how you treat a vet­eran.”

Van den Bo­gaard asked his con­gress­man, Vir­ginia Demo­crat Ger­ald E. Con­nolly, to in­ter­vene.

“I am very con­cerned that a per­son who has hon­or­ably served our coun­try for 15 years in the U.S. Army, in­clud­ing tours of duty in Kosovo and Bagh­dad, has been un­able to have his rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion re­quest ap­proved by the Na­tional Gallery of Art,” Con­nolly said in a state­ment to The Post. “I call upon the Na­tional Gallery to do the right thing and grant this rea­son­able re­quest.”

Guthrie ex­plained that there are a lim­ited num­ber of seated posts and that they are as­signed in the or­der they are re­quested.

“The es­sen­tial fea­ture of the job is to stand; that’s what it is,” she said.

KATHER­INE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST

“There are two sets of rules — rules for them and rules for us,” one mem­ber of the Na­tional Gallery’s pro­tec­tion staff said of ad­min­is­tra­tors.

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