Philadelphia Museum of Art workers strike, again

The union says management has stalled in negotiations for a first contract.

People gather around a table with water bottles and snacks. A sculpture, trees, and street are visible in the background.

Workers and volunteers prepare supplies for the strike at the Philadelphia Art Museum on Sept. 26, 2022. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art are on strike, forming a picket line early Monday morning at the museum’s North Entrance on Kelly Drive.

The “wall-to-wall” union of about 180 workers from nearly every department at the museum has been negotiating for its first contract for two years.

“The museum has come to us with really meager proposals that don’t even begin to address the fact that wages at the museum are wildly depressed compared to other museums at the same budget scale,” said Union President Adam Rizzo. “This museum has an annual budget of about $60 million a year and an endowment of about $600 million. We’re paid, on average, 20% less than other museum workers at similar museums.”

People hold signs walking around in a circle in front of a stone building.
Workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art participate in a strike on Sept. 26, 2022. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

The union had staged a one-day strike last week. This strike is intended to be ongoing until a satisfactory contract is reached.

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Picketers chanted “No contract: No peace. No contract: No Matisse.” The Art Museum will open a major international exhibition of the work of the early modernist Henri Matisse in three weeks, on October 20.

The museum remains open to visitors. Museum management said it is negotiating in good faith and has offered reasonable wages and benefits, including 8.5% wage increase in the next 10 months and 11% by July 1, 2024, four weeks of paid parental leave, and job security protections that will maintain permanent union jobs rather than relying on temporary workers.

A man with two young kids speaks to another man as people holding signs walk in a circle in the background.
State Senator Nikil Saval and his children speak with Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

“The museum remains committed to reaching a collective bargaining agreement that is both fair to our staff and responsible to the long-term sustainability of this important Philadelphia institution,” a museum spokesman said in a statement. “We have worked hard to do so, and we have reached tentative agreements on more than 25 substantive issues during the negotiations.”

On the picket line, curator Amanda Bock said workers have been leaving the museum to seek better wages at other museums.

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“That’s not only in New York or LA, but that could be at the Barnes [Foundation], at PAFA [Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts], the Penn Museum,” Bock said. “The departures from the Philadelphia Museum of Art have been numerous in the last couple of years, and often it’s people finding better wages for the same work just right down the street.”

Other unions joined the museum workers on the picket line. The president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Jerry Jordan, said he came because Philadelphia is a union town.

“This is a union that deserves to be recognized, it deserves the contract, and it deserves to have the support of the labor movement,” he said. “They’re fighting for dignity. They’re fighting for respect. They’re fighting for a living wage.”

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