Philadelphia Museum of Art Strike Ends with Worker Victory

Unionized employees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) on October 14 ended a nineteen-day strike after reaching a tentative agreement with management that union members then ratified on October 16. The new contract, which the union spent two years actively negotiating for, raises the minimum wage for PMA workers to $16.75 from $15; provides for across-the-board raises of 14 percent, retroactive to July 1 and spanning the three years of the contract; awards workers four weeks of paid family leave; and decreases the price of the high-deductible health care plan under which most PMA staff are insured, while increasing the museum’s contribution to the plan, to 95 percent from 90 percent. As well, full-time employees will receive a $500 longevity bonus for every five years they work at the institution, with part-time employees being awarded $250 for same.

“This will have a huge impact on the workers at the museum, and I think it will also potentially have ripple effects outward to other cultural institutions,” Adam Rizzo, president of AFSCME District Council 47, Local 397, told the New York Times.

The strike was a last-ditch effort on the part of the union to obtain a fair contract and was launched in the wake of a one-day warning strike, which itself came after union bosses filed an unfair labor practices grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, citing multiple instances of alleged malfeasance on the part of the PMA. “For weeks they were saying they would not even negotiate with us unless we reduced our proposals,” said Rizzo. “But I guess that turned out not to be true.”

The accord allowed the museum—which remained open during the action as non-union and upper-level workers filled positions left temporarily vacant by striking workers—to avoid further strife concurrent with the October 20 opening at the PMA of a major exhibition of the work of Henri Matisse.

“We believe that this agreement and our investment in people across the organization is the right thing to do, works for everyone and establishes a way forward for the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” said museum director Sasha Suda in a statement.

PMA board chair Leslie Ann Miller additionally sounded a positive note, telling the Times, “We look forward to what we all believe is a new chapter in this museum’s history.”

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