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National labor leaders join Philadelphia Museum of Art workers at rally for fair contract

Workers and supporters rally outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By AFSCME Staff ·
National labor leaders join Philadelphia Museum of Art workers at rally for fair contract
AFSCME President Lee Saunders speaks at the rally.

Hundreds of workers from across the country joined Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) workers at a rally Tuesday outside the museum to demand a fair contract.

The workers were joined by national labor leaders, including AFSCME President Lee Saunders and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who were in Philadelphia for the AFL-CIO’s convention.

“It’s time to do the right thing,” Saunders told the crowd. “It’s time for the museum to end the stalling and the foot-dragging and the excuse-making. It is time for a fair contract!”

Saunders noted that the museum took nearly $11 million in federal pandemic relief assistance that was supposed to protect workers but laid off 127 workers. He recalled that the museum has a large endowment and receives support from the city to cover utilities and operating costs; top executives earn as much as $725,000 a year.

Yet, over the past 22 months, it has refused to negotiate with workers who demand fair wages, affordable benefits and basic workplace protections. It’s been nearly two years since PMA workers formed a union through AFSCME District Council 47.

Amanda Bock, an assistant curator of photography at the museum and member of AFSCME Local 397, told rallygoers that the prestige of working at the museum has been used for far too long to deny workers fair wages and benefits.

“As the saying goes, you can’t eat prestige,” she said, later adding, “My colleagues and I are here today because we know we can protect each other by winning a fair contract. A contract with guaranteed raises and competitive salaries. A contract with health care we can afford to use. A contract with paid parental leave, so we don’t have to choose between having a career and having a family.”

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AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler speaks at the rally.

Adam Rizzo, a museum educator and president of AFSCME Local 397, said PMA employees across every department are overworked and underpaid.

“When museum management and the Board of Trustees see a problem, they only have one solution: squeeze more work out of even fewer workers, and give them even less in return,” he said at the rally. “That’s why we need a fair contract now.”

The rally was held at the same time as the 29th AFL-CIO Quadrennial Constitutional Convention, at which Liz Shuler and Fred Redmond were elected president and secretary-treasurer, respectively, of the 57-union labor federation. President Joe Biden addressed the convention.

PMA workers made history in August 2020 when they voted overwhelmingly to form the country’s first wall-to-wall museum union, which allows for all eligible workers, regardless of department, to unite as a single bargaining unit.

They are also part of something big happening nationwide: Cultural workers in cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York are organizing to secure the power and protections of a union. AFSCME represents more than 35,000 workers at hundreds of cultural institutions across the country who have joined together to demand better pay and benefits, equity and transparency in the workplace, and more.

“This is a young, dynamic workforce that is bringing new energy to our movement across the country,” Saunders said at the rally, referring to cultural workers. “They represent the labor movement of tomorrow, but more importantly they also represent the labor movement of today.”

Some of the other labor leaders who addressed the rally in addition to Shuler were Cathy Scott, president of AFSCME District Council 47; Pat Eiding, president of Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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