Philadelphia Museum Art workers are on strike ‘until we get the contract we deserve’

Unionized workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) began a strike against the museum today (September 26). This is the latest action taken by the museum union since contract negotiations began in the fall of 2020. More than 100 members of the union, which includes people from almost every department in the museum, have formed the line of picketing. They were joined by representatives of other unions, locals and officials.

The union is ready to strike “until we get the contract we deserve,” says Adam Rizzo, president of Local 397, which represents PMA workers, although he hopes a contractual agreement could be reached by the end of the week if the administration of the museum is willing to return to the negotiating table. However, union members are “ready to stay out longer if we need to,” Rizzo says.

The start of the strike coincides with the first day of work for the museum’s new director and general manager, Sasha Suda. “I really hope that [Sasha Suda’s] the arrival will change the culture of senior management around these negotiations,” Rizzo said. “But I think at the end of the day it really comes down to [board chair] Leslie Ann Miller and the Board of Directors. Because I feel like they’re the ones saying, ‘No, we can’t move forward on any of these issues.’ »

The museum’s union, which is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), had previously staged a one-day strike on September 16. The last negotiation sessions took place on September 22 and 23. Following Friday’s bargaining meeting, the union issued a press release announcing its plan to strike and outlining some of the unresolved issues in the negotiations, including wages, health care and paternity leave.

Over the summer, the museum’s union began crowdfunding via social media for a strike fund in anticipation of the bargaining stalemate. The fund was created in case workers forgo compensation to strike. The fund allows workers to still be paid and not lose wages due to the picket line, which will remain in place until a contract is reached.

Striking Philadelphia Museum of Art workers and their supporters form a picket line outside the nearby Rodin Museum, which the Philadelphia Museum of Art operates Photo by Tim Tiebout

“I was trading Thursday and Friday as part of the table team. We put a lot of effort into coming up with sincere compromises, which we weren’t all happy with. However, even then, the management team did not show the same interest in genuine compromise,” said Nicole Cook, manager of the graduate university partnership program at the museum and a member of the team of union negotiation. “They posted misleading percentages on their offers right now. Their proposal amounts to around 11% wage increases spread over 3 years, or just over 3% per year, with no movement on soaring healthcare costs. This is not enough for our members, who have been working without a raise for over 2 years, as inflation is soaring.

Despite the strike, the museum remains open to the public. “The museum remains committed to reaching a collective bargaining agreement that is both fair to our staff and responsible for the long-term sustainability of this important Philadelphia institution,” a museum spokesperson said in a statement. “We worked hard to achieve this and reached agreements in principle on more than 25 substantive issues during the negotiations. We remain committed to the collective bargaining process and hope the union is ready to find a collaborative way forward.

The strike also comes after the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in August. In the complaint, the union alleged that the administration of the museum had engaged in anti-union actions.

“We will be here on the picket line until management sees what we are all seeing, that workers are part of the PMA community and we are trying to make things better for visitors and workers,” Cook said. . “To fellow arts colleagues and all potential visitors to PMA: Please do not cross the picket line. You cannot stay neutral in a fight.

On Monday, elected officials expressed their support for the striking trade unionists, in particular John Fettermanthe Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania who is currently running for the US Senate, and State Senator Nikil Saval, who has joined the picket line with his son.

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