By Alex Greenberger
Senior Editor, ARTnews
Unionized workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art voted Tuesday to authorize a strike amid what they described as fraying relations with leadership during a protracted period of contract negotiations.
The vote came just days after the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, which could investigate the museum. The workers claimed that the museum’s leadership had engaged in “union-busting activity” by “repeatedly interfering with employees’ rights.”
A museum representative said that the institution “does not agree with the union’s assertions in the filing and looks forward to responding.”
According to the union, contract negotiations have dragged on since October 2020, around two months after the workers’ group was formed. Among the issues that the workers are seeking to negotiate are health care, paid parental leave, wages, and the use of temporary and fixed-term employees.
Adam Rizzo, an educator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said in a statement, “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 healthcare benefits whatsoever. We won’t.”
In a statement, a Philadelphia Museum of Art representative said, “The museum was disappointed to learn of the union’s vote to authorize a strike. We value our staff and have always respected their right to organize and participate in the union. Accordingly, the museum has been bargaining in good faith with the union, and we remain committed to working toward a fair and appropriate collective bargaining agreement.”
The union’s efforts to gain a new contract are part of a broader workers’ rights movement that is taking place in museums across the country.
Earlier this summer, workers at MASS MoCA, a large contemporary art museum in North Adams, Massachusetts, led a daylong strike to highlight wage disparities and contract negotiations. And this week, workers at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio announced plans to join a union. Management at that institution put out a statement that made leadership seem unusually receptive to their union drive.
The unions at MASS MoCA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are relatively new, both having been formed in the past few years. But this week also saw a longtime museum union make strides toward a new contract.
A representative for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art said the institution and its union, which was formed in 1972, had reached a collective bargaining agreement. The museum spokesperson said that the new agreement alters preexisting wage structures and strives for greater transparency in its language.
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