NOLA World War II Museum lays off 82 employees days before reopening


NEW ORLEANS — As it prepares to reopen on Memorial Day, the National World War II Museum has laid off 82 full-time and part-time workers amid a significant drop in visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The job cuts, confirmed Friday by a museum spokesman, account for nearly a third of the museum’s staff, which numbered more than 300.

The museum is also eliminating 40 vacant positions and said that many of the remaining staff members will take temporary pay cuts of between 5 and 25 percent.

“As a private nonprofit that largely relies on visitation, The National WWII Museum has faced significant financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its campus closure,” said museum president and CEO Stephen Watson in a statement.

“I am deeply sorry that it became necessary to lay off many dedicated colleagues who played a key part in the museum’s success,” he said. “While I am grateful that we were able to pay our employees throughout the closure and will continue to retain approximately 200 of our staff, it is very difficult to lose many good, talented people who contributed so much to this museum.”

The museum in the Warehouse District has been closed since March 13. In the two months since, the museum said it has lost millions of dollars in revenue, from lost ticket sales and the cancellation of private events, fundraisers and overseas educational travel programs.

Museum officials said that through cuts to discretionary spending, support from donors and relief from the federal CARES Act, they were able to minimize the short-term impact and continue paying employees during the closure.

Even though it plans to reopen Monday on Memorial Day, the museum expects a “tough year ahead” given the impacts on tourism, the statement released Friday said.

For the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, visitation is predicted to be less than half of what was previously forecast.

When it reopens Monday at 9 a.m., the museum will operate at 25 percent of its total capacity while enacting new safety measures, including advance online ticket purchases, social distancing and enhanced sanitizing and cleaning protocols.

The museum, which opened in 2000 as the D-Day Museum, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on June 6.

“I will be forever grateful to our staff — both those who are continuing with us and those we said goodbye to today– for their passion, creativity, and commitment to advancing our mission, especially during these unprecedented times,” Watson said.

“Just as we did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the museum will work tirelessly to build back our operations and play an active role in helping kick start the city and state’s economic recovery.”

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