The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the PMA Union, an affiliate of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 47, reached a three-year agreement, union leaders and PMA museum director Sasha Suda announced Friday.
The PMA’s board of trustees and the union’s executive committee approved the deal’s terms on Friday. The union’s 180-worker membership voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract on Sunday. The vote was 99 percent in favor.
“I feel good about the terms. They met everything that we asked for,” Adam Rizzo, PMA union president, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“The museum caved on every single issue that we were fighting for. We won everything we asked for,” Rizzo added.
The strike, which began September 26, lasted 19 days as the union and the museum could not come to an agreement largely on salary increases. The union had rejected the PMA’s initial offer of wage increases totaling 8.5 percent over the next 10 months and 11 percent by July 1, 2024.
News of the tentative agreement came just as the museum was about to inaugurate a blockbuster Henri Matisse exhibition, with a protest initially planned for the show’s VIP opening on Saturday. That action has since been called off.
On social media, the union had accused the museum of hiring outside art handlers, which the union called “scabs,” to install the works in the Matisse show while the strike was ongoing. Queried about this earlier this week, a PMA spokesperson declined to comment.
The new deal, union leaders told the Inquirer, included retroactive salary increases to July and 14 percent raises over the next three years. The minimum hourly wage for museum workers is set to increase from $15 to $16.75. Workers will also receive lowered costs for health care and four weeks of paid parental leave.
“This victory today is an example of what happens when workers come together in a union to demand better wages, fair treatment and respect on the job,” Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME, the largest trade union of public employees, said in a statement.
“This is why cultural workers at museums, libraries and zoos across the country have started a wave of worker organizing that’s taking hold of the industry, and we’re proud that they’re part of the AFSCME family.”
The agreement, if approved on Sunday, will bring an over two-year process to an end. Workers at the PMA voted to unionize in August 2020 and negotiations have dragged on ever since.
For much of this year, Philadelphia Museum leadership has faced controversy for the way it has dealt with workers in the face of multiple scandals. In January, the New York Times reported that Joshua Helmer, who formerly served as a manager at the museum, had solicited dates from female employees in exchange for professional advancement. At the time, the museum said that it aimed to be “free from harassment or inappropriate behavior of any kind” and vowed to investigate its workplace culture.
The findings of an investigation by an outside consulting firm were reported in July by the Philadelphia Inquirer. According to the article, two male managers were accused of abuse (neither are reportedly still employed by the museum), as well as allegations that institutional leadership had not done enough to combat discrimination.
[Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect that union membership voted in favor of the new contract on Sunday.]