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Philadelphia Museum of Art workers win major victories in contract, end historic strike

Photo by: Javeon Butler/AFSCME
By Pete Levine ·

Philadelphia Museum of Art Union members ratified an agreement with their employer on Sunday after ending their historic strike.

The agreement, which runs through June 30, 2025, includes wage increases totaling 14% across the life of the contract, substantial reductions to health care plan costs, four weeks of paid parental leave (previously, no parental leave was given), an increase in the minimum hourly wage to $16.75 (up from $15 an hour), longevity raises and more.

In a statement, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “After more than two years fighting for a fair contract and nearly three weeks on strike, Philadelphia Museum of Art workers have finally reached a fair deal that treats them with the respect and dignity they deserve. Sticking together in the face of union busters, scabs and stonewalling from management, PMA workers showed us all how it’s done.”

Adam Rizzo, a museum educator and president of Local 397, said, “I could not be more proud of what the PMA Union members have achieved. This contract is a game-changer for current PMA workers, for the future of the museum and for workers throughout the cultural sector. Our victory is the result of solidarity: our members’ solidarity with one another and our community’s solidarity with us.”

PMA workers won their union election more than two years ago, in August 2020, forming the country’s first wall-to-wall museum union. A relatively new phenomenon in the cultural sector, a wall-to-wall union allows for all eligible workers, regardless of department, to unite as a single bargaining unit. They are part of a larger movement of cultural workers organizing for a voice on the job.

However, PMA management took a hardline negotiating position on pay with the workers despite boasting a $60 million annual budget, nearly a billion dollars in assets and pockets deep enough to hire a union-busting law firm.

AFSCME’s investigation found that the museum also took $5.1 million in federal pandemic relief assistance that was supposed to protect workers but laid off 127 workers. As AFSCME Now has reported, the museum receives support from the city of Philadelphia to cover utilities and operating costs; top executives earn as much as $725,000 a year.

In contrast, the workers’ demands on pay and health care amounted to $300,000 in additional costs per year over management’s most recent positions.

Unified and undeterred, PMA workers held rallies to demand management stop stalling contract negotiations and agree to a fair contract. Several of those rallies brought support from the larger labor movement, including a rally in June, in which AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler voiced her support for the museum workers.

And in July, AFSCME members attending our union’s 45th International Convention in Philadelphia showed up to express their support for PMA Union members.

The workers began their strike on Sept. 26, while the museum used “scab” workers to install paintings for their “Matisse in the 1930s” exhibit. That strike followed a one-day “warning” strike held the week before. The workers also spoke to the Philadelphia City Council to correct management’s mischaracterizations and illuminate the key issues they were fighting for.

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