Philadelphia Museum of Art workers authorize strike

Philadelphia Museum of Art
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Members of a union representing staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art authorized a strike in a near-unanimous vote Tuesday night.

Local 397, part of AFSCME District Council 47, has been negotiating its first contract with the institution’s administrators since the PMA workers unionized two years ago.

Tuesday’s meeting gives the union’s six-person executive team the power to call a strike, which could be a one-day action or an extended work stoppage, if no deal is reached, Local 397 President Adam Rizzo said.

“We’re not gonna strike yet,” he told Metro on Wednesday. “We don’t have specific dates in mind or anything like that, but it’s certainly an escalation tactic that is now in our hands moving forward.”

Union officials said turnout for the vote was high, with a supermajority of members casting ballots.

A PMA spokesperson, in an emailed statement, said the museum was disappointed with the decision.

“We value our staff and have always respected their right to organize and participate in the union,” the spokesman continued. “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.”

Contract talks have led to tentative agreements on more than 25 significant labor issues, PMA officials said.

But, Rizzo said, the sides are still going back-and-forth about compensation, benefits and the museum’s use of temporary, termed and contract employees.

The union received support Wednesday from elected leaders on social media, including City Councilmember Helen Gym and state Sen. Nikil Saval.

“Workers are seeking respect for their union and real responses to their demands. Ready to meet them at the picket line if their demands continue to go unmet,” Saval tweeted.

Local 397 last week accused PMA managers of engaging in illegal labor practices in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board.

The charges brought to the NLRB include allegations that the museum has been converting positions that were previously full-time into temporary or fixed-length jobs, Rizzo said.

In addition, PMA leaders have not been handing over requested information to union negotiators, and they have been making changes to working conditions that should be subject to collective bargaining, he added.

The museum “does not agree with the union’s assertions in the filing and looks forward to responding,” a spokesperson said.

PMA’s new director and CEO, Sasha Suda, is set to officially start Sept. 21. Suda previously led the National Gallery of Canada, where, Rizzo noted, the workforce is also unionized.

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