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Workers at storied Philadelphia Museum of Art authorize a strike

AFSCME members, led by President Lee Saunders (front row, second from left) rallied at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in July, seeking a contract for the workers. Photo Credit: Terrell Hasley
By AFSCME Staff ·

PHILADELPHIA – Fed up with management’s refusal to negotiate a fair contract, workers at the storied Philadelphia Museum of Art have authorized a strike in their fight to procure their first contract.

Members of AFSCME Local 397 (District Council 47) – the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union (PMAU) – voted 99% on Aug. 30 to authorize the PMAU executive board to call a strike if necessary to pressure management into doing the right thing, the union said in a statement.

This vote comes after the union filed an unfair labor practice charge on Aug. 26, alleging that management committed eight violations of federal labor law and engaged in union busting during nearly two years of negotiations.

PMAU has been in contract talks with management since October 2020, after workers won their union election by a landslide 89% in August of that year.

According to PMAU, management has repeatedly failed to make reasonable offers on wages, health care, paid parental leave, or the use of temporary and fixed-term employees.

“After massive layoffs, years without raises, and an ongoing pandemic, museum management expects us to accept meager raises, insufficient paid parental leave, and no improvements to our health care benefits whatsoever. We won’t,” said Adam Rizzo, a PMA museum educator and president of Local 397.

He had this message for management: “Start respecting this union, stop acting unilaterally in violation of federal labor law, and come to the table with real responses and a real commitment to reaching a fair resolution.”

Local 397 represents museum workers across nearly all museum departments, including visitor services, retail, education, installations, curatorial, conservation, marketing and development.

AFSCME members from across the country rallied on the museum’s steps in July, when AFSCME held its 45th Convention in the city. Delegates to the AFL-CIO Convention, also held in Philadelphia, held a rally in front of the PMA earlier this summer.

“During negotiations, we have presented research showing how low pay is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art compared to other art museums nationally, and especially compared to our peer institutions. Museum management has not argued that they cannot afford the improvements we are proposing; they have simply rejected them,” said Matt Carrieri, a PMA gallery maintenance technician and an at-large member of the PMAU Executive Board.

Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47, said the workers deserve much better from their employer.

“What is happening at the museum is wrong and needs to stop. The workers voted overwhelmingly to form their union and join AFSCME DC 47 more than two years ago. A fair contract is long overdue,” she said. “We will continue to stand with PMA workers, and will join them on the picket line if a strike is called.” 

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