Philadelphia Museum of Art Workers Vote to Strike

Employees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) on August 30 voted by a 99 percent margin to authorize a strike should one be deemed necessary by union leaders. The vote, which took place at a meeting attended by most of the union’s roughly 165 members, came less than a week after union bosses filed an unfair labor practices grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, citing eight occasions of alleged malfeasance on the part of the PMA.

Chief among the improper actions named by the union—which formed in May 2020 under the auspices of AFSCME District Council Local 47 and has been engaged in the bargaining process with PMA since October of that year—is the museum’s practice of rehiring full-time workers who were cut as the economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis took hold to occupy their old positions on a temporary basis, with no assurance of job security. The union additionally accused the museum of being deceptive in its bargaining practices, and of failing to supply information to union members on request. In a handout posted to its Instagram account in July, the union complained of rising health care costs and low and stagnant pay, and noted that while PMA had been paying law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius roughly $1,000 an hour to oversee negotiations for months, the institution is “nickel-and-diming” them at the bargaining table. (The Philadelphia Inquirer affirms that a team from the firm has been handling the discussions since the departure earlier this year of former director and president Timothy Rub.)

“Compared to peer institutions with similar budget size, we are lagging far, far behind,” PMA union president Adam Rizzo told the Inquirer. “It’s stark, the differences.”

The museum in a statement cast itself as “disappointed” over the vote and contended that officials had been “bargaining in good faith with the union” and remained “committed to working toward a fair and appropriate collective bargaining agreement.”

Talks are scheduled for next week, according to the museum. Of note, the museum as of September 21 will be led by Sasha Suda, formerly the director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, which itself is a union shop.

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