PMA Union workers at the September 16 warning strike (photo by Tim Tiebout; courtesy PMA Union)

Workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) went on strike today, September 26, as nearly two years of union negotiations have failed to yield a contract. The PMA Union staged a one-day warning strike on September 16, but now, workers say they are striking indefinitely.

The museum’s employees officially joined the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 47 (AFSCME DC 47) after an 89% majority vote in August 2020. The PMA Union became the first wall-to-wall union at a major American museum and one of the country’s largest unionized museum workforces.

Contract negotiations between the PMA Union and museum leadership, however, have been fraught. On August 26, the union filed eight Unfair Labor Practice charges against the museum, accusing the institution of union busting. Four days later, the PMA Union voted to authorize a strike with a 99% margin.

PMA Union workers picket outside of the museum this morning, September 26.

The daylong warning strike came a little over two weeks later. PMA Union President Adam Rizzo told Hyperallergic that since then, the union and museum leadership have arrived at agreements on most non-economic issues — including provisions for job protection that dictate the roles of temporary workers and volunteers — but the two parties still have yet to agree on pay and benefits. Rizzo added that healthcare is the biggest hurdle toward finalizing a contract, and called current plans — which he stated were financially accessible only at a high deductible — “wildly unaffordable” for PMA’s workforce. (A PMA representative told Hyperallergic that the plan is “generous compared to industry benchmarks, with lower deductibles and coinsurance than many other museums and nonprofits.”)

“Scabby” the rat outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on September 16 (photo by Tim Tiebout; courtesy PMA Union)

In a press release this morning, the museum listed its offers to the union: an 8.5% wage increase over the next 10 months (and 11% by July 1, 2024); a minimum salary that is 10% higher than that of the current lowest salaried employee; four weeks of parental leave; accelerated healthcare eligibility and vacation accrual for new hourly employees; and a more flexible remote policy.

“The museum respects the right of employees to organize and go on strike but is disappointed that the union decided to strike despite the significant wage increases and other offers made by the museum at the last negotiating session,” the museum stated.

PMA remains open today as its workers protest outside the main building, the Rodin Museum, the Perelman Building annex, and the museum’s loading dock, where Rizzo said workers are encouraging shippers not to cross the picket line.

On the line, PMA workers were joined by other community members expressing solidarity, including members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and State Senator Nikil Saval.

“@philamuseum is a treasured place for my family, as it is for so many others, but it’s nothing without the essential labor of the workers who are its caretakers,” Saval tweeted. “Solidarity forever.”

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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