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St. Petersburg’s Dalí Museum responds to petition about employees who lost their jobs

The petition on change.org accuses the museum of collecting PPP funds and then letting employees go.
A portion of the Enigma, the 75-foot-tall glass entryway at the Dali Museum, is illuminated with blue light on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in downtown St. Petersburg.
A portion of the Enigma, the 75-foot-tall glass entryway at the Dali Museum, is illuminated with blue light on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in downtown St. Petersburg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 23, 2020

A petition recently created on change.org centers on St. Petersburg’s Dalí Museum.

The petition, created by a user called Innocent Bystander, is titled Shame on You, Dalí Museum and demands that former employees get their jobs back. It goes on to say the museum let some employees go after receiving a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“The Dali Museum, a local St. Pete institution since 1982, recently fired many local staff members after taking a large sum of PPP money earmarked to help ‘small businesses’ retain employees during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, while retaining highly-paid upper management,” the petition reads.

“Despite its stated mission to serve ‘...our community and the world at large,' the museum has caused grave financial injury (including families losing their health insurance in the middle of a pandemic) to these former employees who worked relentlessly – some 7 days a week, some without receiving overtime pay – to see the museum through its pandemic-forced temporary closure and to transition it to all-online programs and exhibits while closed. We say Shame On You and demand these employees be returned to earning a living... yes, even if it means cutting into those large upper management salaries.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had 270 signatures, with a goal of 500.

The Tampa Bay Times reached out to the Dalí Museum for comment. It issued the following statement in an email:

“This has been an unprecedented and difficult experience for the Dalí Museum, as it has been for everyone across the globe. Since our primary revenue source is visitation, being closed for 14 weeks during the pandemic has had a significant financial impact – especially at the height of tourism season.

The Dalí was able to maintain all staff at full pay from its own operational budget for four weeks following the closure while applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. The Museum received the loan and worked with our bank and outside CPA counsel to follow all guidelines associated with the funding. The loan was used to cover full pay for all Museum employees for an additional eight weeks, despite remaining closed with no incoming revenue. Like most businesses that received the loan, the PPP funding allowed us to retain our full staff longer than we would have been able to otherwise.

Following the PPP period, we retained over 80 percent of our staff, then resumed paying retained employees with our own funds while working on a re-opening strategy. The retained staff took a reduction in pay, and senior staff members took a greater percentage cut.

The largest part of the Museum's reduction in expenses has been achieved through operational expense reductions. The Dalí cut non-staff expenses almost in half and is operating on minimal budgets to retain as many staff as possible despite the anticipated challenging financial forecast. When possible, we have rehired employees from eliminated positions and placed them in other areas that had staff vacancies.

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We are determined to reinvent ourselves in the spirit of Dalí himself, to remain a vibrant institution, a pride to the community in this new era and beyond.”

The museum will reopen to the public on July 1 with new hours and safety measures. Guests will purchase timed tickets and can only listen to audio tours on their smartphones via the Dalí app. Cafe Gala will open with a limited menu.

Related: The Dalí Museum opens to the public on July 1