The Titan Missile Museum has been forced to cancel several specialty tours after nearly 20 volunteers walked off the job rather than sign a "volunteer release and waiver of liability" they say could put them at financial risk.
Museum director Yvonne Morris declined an in-person interview with the Green Valley News, but confirmed in an email that 18 people from Titan declined to sign the waiver. She said 32 signed. She also confirmed the museum "had to cancel a number of its specialty tours."
In two emails, Morris described the document as a standard form to indemnify the museum against negligent conduct by any volunteer. The form is "recommended legal best practices of nonprofit organizations nationally" and was introduced as part of the latest volunteer training manual, she wrote.
"Volunteers who decline to agree to these terms will not be permitted to continue as volunteers for the museum, and those who declined to sign have left of their own accord. While we regret their decisions, we wish them well," Morris said.
A handful of former volunteers told the Green Valley News that they would have no problem signing a document promising to follow all of the museums rules and prohibiting them from suing the museum. However, the document goes further than that, they said.
They are convinced if they were to sign the document, they would be on the hook for attorneys fees and potential damages should a third party sue the museum. One of the volunteers said two attorneys he consulted agreed with that interpretation.
If a museum guest slips on stairs because it rained, they could falsely claim they weren't warned to be careful and sue, the former volunteers said.
“You’d probably win that case, but at what cost? You then are dishing out a tremendous amount of personal wealth to defend yourself, and time. I don’t need that. I’ve left the corporate world. I don’t need that,” one of them said.
The former volunteers spoke to the Green Valley News on condition of anonymity. All have earned lifetime memberships to the Titan Missile Museum and the Pima Air and Space Museum and fear losing those for speaking to the media. Some of them also hope to return to volunteering at the museum should it reverse course on the waiver.
Bob Darcangelo, who has volunteered 5,000 hours at Titan over the last 10 years ago, has also refused to sign the waiver.
"I'm too old to be worried about something coming out of the wild blue yonder, like someone suing the museum," he said. "It's not worth the risk."
Darcangelo and the other volunteers said they were shown the document and told they had to sign it within 10 days. There were no explanations and no opportunity to ask questions, they said.
"It was kind of like, 'Here it is, sign it or hang it up,' and a bunch of us hung it up," Darcangelo said.
Despite Morris' contention, the former volunteers said they know of no other nonprofit organizations that require its volunteers to sign similar documents.
"We’re being lied to, blatantly lied to. It insults my intelligence," one of the former volunteers said. "All of us have run large companies or worked for the military and achieved high status in the world not by being idiots.”
Joyce Finkelstein is the program manager for the Green Valley Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse, which recruits potential volunteers for more than 100 non-profit organizations. After making several calls Thursday, she said she is not aware of any that requires its volunteers to sign a waiver of liability.
By insisting on the waiver, the museum has lost "tens of thousands of hours" of experience and knowledge and will ultimately result in a large loss in revenue, the former volunteers told the Green Valley News.
There are no longer any volunteers qualified to lead the Beyond the Blast Door Tour and the Top to Bottom Tour, they said. The only tours that have sufficient staffing are the one-hour guided tours. During the busy months, the Beyond the Blast Door Tour brings in $800 a month and the Top to Bottom Tours bring in about $5,400 a month, the former volunteers estimated.
If tours are already being canceled now during the slow season, the former volunteers wondered what could happen in the fall if the winter-visitor volunteers refuse to sign the waiver.
“It’s like they’re purposely wanting to kill Titan, purposely wanting to make it a shell of what it used to be,” one of them said.
"You’ve lost all of your instructors, you’ve lost a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge, so I think if they do continue on, it will be a highly modified tour, almost like if you push a button at a kiosk," one former volunteer said. "People will be stationed to make sure nothing is stolen, nothing is vandalized, but they won’t be able to answer questions. Maybe that’s where they want to go."
Morris wrote that the revenue lost due to the canceled tours was a "small fraction of the museum's overall revenue." The volunteers who remain are working diligently to make sure there's minimal disruption of the daily general tour schedule, she said.
"It’s regrettable that a number of volunteers left the museum rather than sign the waiver. But we’re confident that the museum will continue to prosper and we’re grateful for the hard work and commitment of the remaining volunteers who are contributing to our efforts," she wrote.
When asked additional questions, Morris emailed "the museum has said all it has to say about this matter as we consider it closed. We’re focused on moving forward and continuing to provide terrific customer service to our visitors."
Pima Air and Space
The Arizona Aerospace Foundation, which operates Titan and the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, has also asked the volunteers at the Air and Space Museum to sign the waiver.
There are about 280 volunteers at the Air and Space Museum, but it's unclear how many of them have refused to sign the waiver. The former volunteers said they are aware of a handful who used to volunteer at both museums who have declined to sign it.
Steve Marchand, executive director for the Arizona Aerospace Foundation, declined interview requests. He also declined to say how many volunteers the Pima Air and Space Museum has and how many haven't signed the waiver.
In an email Friday, Marchand wrote, "With respect to the general nature of your questions. Volunteers by their nature come and go and our organization carries on very satisfactorily. We will continue to serve our visitors expectations, with staff and volunteers alike, to the highest standards, as we always have."
As for the former volunteers feelings about the waiver, Marchand wrote, "We regret that a small number of volunteers have elected to misinterpret the necessity of the waiver and cease volunteering but I’m sure they will find other ways to occupy their free time and we wish them well."
George Henderson and Gary Abrams, Arizona Aerospace Foundation Board of Trustee members, referred all questions to Marchand. Another trustee, Kim Acorn, said he was unaware volunteers had been asked to sign a waiver and expressed concern that Marchand declined an interview request.
Several other trustee members did not return phone calls seeking comment.