Philadelphia Museum of Art workers go on strike

Philadelphia Museum of Art strike
Workers on strike picket Monday, Sept. 26, outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Jack Tomczuk

Lugging their suitcases, Cynthia Griggins and her two sisters, Sharon and Suzanne, approached the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Monday morning for a planned visit.

The siblings — from Ohio, Seattle and Mississippi — turned back after encountering a picket line and learning that museum workers were on strike in a fight for higher wages and better benefits.

“We just walked over. We knew nothing about it,” Griggins said. The trio decided they would rather go to the nearby Barnes Foundation than cross the picket line.

Members of the Philadelphia Museum of Art union did not report to work Monday; instead, they protested outside the iconic building’s entrances, hoping to bring attention to their cause and put pressure on the institution’s leadership.

The open-ended strike follows a one-day work stoppage on Sept. 16. Adam Rizzo, president of the PMA union, known as Local 397, said negotiators have reached an agreement on almost all issues besides wages and benefits.

“Scabby the Rat” was posted outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Monday, Sept. 26, as workers picketed. Jack Tomczuk

A museum spokesperson said the sides are not scheduled to meet again until Friday. Contract talks have been ongoing since workers at the museum unionized two years ago.

Museum management offered an 8.5% pay raise over the next 10 months, with an additional 2.5% increase in July 2024, according to a statement issued Monday.

“In the larger context of how this museum treats its employees and compensates its employees, that is still far below what we need,” Rizzo told Metro. Employees on the picket line said PMA staff have not had a raise in three years.

While the union maintains that PMA employees receive less than peer institutions, the museum contends that pay is similar when adjusted for cost-of-living in high-price cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Local 397 leaders want the museum to contribute more to employee health plans. Currently, most workers are enrolled in the high-deductible plan because the premiums for the HMO option are too expensive, Rizzo said.

A PMA spokesperson said the high-deductible plan pays close to 90% of an employee’s total healthcare cost. The museum offers $500 annually to an individual’s health savings account and $1,000 to those whose families are enrolled in the plan, the spokesperson added.

Management’s offer also included allowing new hires to enroll in health benefits 60 days earlier than the current policy.

Union members voted to authorize a strike last month, days after Local 397 filed charges against PMA leadership with the National Labor Relations Board. That case is ongoing.

Workers on strike picket Monday, Sept. 26, outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.Jack Tomczuk

Organizers arrived on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway before dawn Monday to begin setting up the picket lines.

Striking workers marched near entrances chanting “What does PMA have to hide? Workers are exploited inside” and “No contract, no Matisse,” referring to an upcoming exhibition. They were joined by “Scabby the Rat,” an inflatable rodent who often appears at labor protests.

“I feel good, energized,” said Local 397 Vice President Lindsey Bloom, who works in the museum’s education department. “We’re hoping this doesn’t last too long.”

PMA remained open, with managers assuming the responsibilities of the striking workers.

Local 397 members attempted to convince prospective visitors to turn back and visit other museums. When the effort was successful, those on the picket lines erupted into cheers.

Not everyone complied. One woman who walked into the museum with two kids told jeering strikers “these kids are 11” as the workers booed and shouted “shame on you.”