Support the Philadelphia Museum of Art strike – Workers World

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Since September 26, nearly 200 workers have been on strike – not showing up for work in person or virtually – at one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States with more than 240,000 works of art of the whole world.

Members of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 397, affiliated with AFSCME District 47 Council, voted for union representation in a landslide 89% voted ‘yes’ in August 2020. Since then, the PMA Board and senior management have refused to reach a agreement with the PMA union.

29 September demonstration (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

After more than two years of unsuccessful talks, after filing a lengthy unfair labor practice charge against museum management, after a 99% vote to authorize a strike, and after staging a one-day warning strike on September 16, the workers finally left work on September 26. .

Union members and supporters hold fast picket lines daily at the Museum’s north and west entrances, the loading dock, the Perelman PMA building across the street, and the Rodin Museum a few blocks away. houses. A strike fund — to which donations can be made tinyurl.com/397strikefund — allowed the union to give its members funds to help them get through until the strike was won.

‘What does PMA have to hide? They exploit the workers inside!

In a letter delivered to the Philadelphia City Council on Sept. 28, AFSCME DC 47 President Kathy Scott said that following the one-day strike on Sept. 16, progress had been made. PMA agreed to limit the use of temps and contractors, and they went from two weeks to four weeks of paid parental leave.

But wages and health care remain major stumbling blocks. Despite being in the top 7% of U.S. art museums by endowment size, PMA hasn’t raised salaries since 2019, amid high inflation. Full-time jobs at the museum pay 33% less than other arts institutions with similarly sized budgets. And PMA pays no rent on city-owned facilities; the city pays for its utilities.

The PMA has proposed a total wage increase of 11% over 33 months, but union members reject an annual wage increase of 3.6% when inflation is above 8%. Many museum workers, despite often having college degrees and specific skills, earned only $10 an hour until January, when the museum was forced to raise the minimum wage to $15 from per hour under the city’s living wage ordinance. PMA refuses to accept Local 397’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $16.75.

Union demands include that all increases be retroactive to July 1, the date non-union employees received wage increases. The PMA refuses to pay a longevity allowance, which would amount to $500 per year for five years of service. Management refuses to provide relief from exorbitant health care costs; 90% of workers are forced into a high-deductible plan.

‘No justice, no peace! No contract − No Matisse!’

This popular song refers to the upcoming exhibition of the works of French impressionist painter Henri Matisse, titled “Matisse in the 1930s”, which is scheduled to open on October 20. The exhibition will include more than 100 drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures, from public and private collections in the United States and Europe, as well as archival photos and documentary films.

The crucial pre-exhibition installation work, including the safe handling of the most beloved art itself, is not yet complete. Local 397 president Adam Rizzo said, “Everyone who’s installing the paints — they’re here today on the lines.”

‘The art museum is not good. Please don’t cross our picket line!

The constant picketing at the five entrances to the museum facilities throughout the day by the 180 members of Local 397 is aided by labor and community organizations in the Philadelphia area. In response to the PMA union’s call to join the picket lines, members of the Teamsters union, AFSCME, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, UNITE HERE and other unions; progressive members of the city council and state legislature; activists from the Save UC Townhomes Coalition; and others helped make picket lines effective.

When larger numbers are on the lines, more people agree not to cross the picket line and turn away. Instead of entering the PMA, guests are invited to visit the Barnes Foundation Museum, one of the largest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern art in the world, just a few blocks away.

Management didn’t even show up for a September 28 bargaining meeting with Local 397 officials. An end to this strike doesn’t seem imminent. What will force the PMA bigwigs to give in? More solidarity! Visit tinyurl.com/3su9jkpk to find out how to support the strike.

Christopher S. Washington