By JOHN LESLIE
Almost 200 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 397 protested outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), the adjacent Perelman Building, and the Rodin Museum on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 16. In what the union called a “one-day warning strike,” the workers picketed museum buildings to call attention to the fact that Art Museum management has refused to negotiate with the union for two years.
This action follows the filing of Unfair Labor Practices charges against PMA management and a strike vote by 99% of union members. The union’s executive board warned, “We take this very seriously. If museum management does not remedy the Unfair Labor Practice charge and come to the bargaining table ready to make real progress, we are prepared to take further action.”
AFSCME District Council 47 President Cathy Scott stated: “Museum management needs to stop union-busting and make serious offers that improve workers’ wages, health care and parental leave. Our membership would not have authorized a strike if they were not united in these demands. We cannot accept a status quo that subjects workers to violations of federal law, wages well below the national average for art museums, and benefits that do not allow workers to support their families.”
Parental leave and other reproductive rights issues have more significance in these negotiations following the overturn of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. In May, the PMA offered two weeks paid parental leave “subject to certain standard eligibility criteria.” Having clearly spelled-out protections for reproductive freedom in union contacts is vitally important.
Picketers engaged in spirited chanting outside of museum entrances and were joined by members of the Teamsters union, who set up inflatable “Scabby the Rat” and “Fat Cat” figures outside the building. Union members told this writer that Carpenters Union members and Steamfitters who work in the museum honored the workers’ picket lines. So did a Teamster UPS driver, who refused to deliver a package behind a picket line. Touched by these acts of solidarity, one museum worker said, “When the carpenters go on strike, I know we’ll be there for them.” Another worker talked about taking a 20 percent pay cut during the pandemic and not getting any raises since then.
There have been protests outside the museum in recent months demanding that management negotiate a contract with the union. So far, the museum management has been more focused on avoiding negotiations while claiming publicly that their intent is to reach “a fair and appropriate contract with the union.” A protest in July following the International Convention of AFSCME in Philadelphia saw 2000 union members and supporters rally to demand a just contract for the PMA union members. An earlier protest in June, at the time of the national AL-CIO convention in Philadelphia, drew more than 600 unionists.
Philadelphia union members all have a responsibility to support these workers in their fight for a just and fair contract. Pressure has to be brought to bear on PMA management to negotiate in good faith. We have to show management and union members alike that they are not alone in this fight. Our solidarity is essential to helping the museum workers last one day longer than management.
Photo: John Leslie / Workers’ Voice