The Power of Collective Action: PMA Union Announcement

Written by Members of the Division of Education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The past few months of pandemic response have given the museum education community plenty of reason for heartbreak. Many of our colleagues across the country have been laid off or furloughed. Programs into which we’ve poured months of creative planning have been canceled or postponed indefinitely. MoMA and other institutions have announced budget shortfalls for the coming fiscal year that all but guarantee further cuts to education and programming. Even those of us who have been granted the reprieve of continued employment for a few months know that everything could change tomorrow. 

It’s not easy to stay optimistic in the midst of such incredible uncertainty, so it feels especially important to share news that’s hopeful. On Friday, May 22, an overwhelming majority of eligible staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced our intent to unionize in affiliation with AFSCME District Council 47. While it’s hard right now to separate how essential an empowered workforce is from the context of the current crisis, this moment comes for us at the end of a full year of organizing. 

Motivated in part by the revelations in last year’s Art + Salary Transparency Spreadsheet, our colleagues from departments across the museum started talking to each other, finding common ground, and building solidarity. It won’t surprise you to learn that museum educators have been deeply involved in this effort. We know how to create community, facilitate challenging conversations, and consider multiple points of view. We know you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and we have embraced inspiration from other museum union campaigns (the New Museum Union, Tenement Museum Union, BAM Union, and New Children’s Museum, just to name a few). And as educators, we’ve come to value the process of organizing as much as the end product. We’ve learned how to build consensus and disagree without falling apart. We’ve experienced immense vulnerability and resilience, both within ourselves and with each other. 

Friday’s announcement doesn’t mark the end of our campaign; it’s only the beginning of a new, public phase. All of the unknowns associated with reopening during a pandemic have given renewed urgency to PMA staff advocating for a voice in decision-making. Now more than ever, museum educators and our public-facing colleagues need safe, accessible, and equitable working conditions. And we need a mechanism for preventing the financial impact of museum closures from landing disproportionately on positions and programs that serve the public. We know that unionizing isn’t the answer to every challenge we face today, but the past year has taught us to believe in the power of collective action to effect change for the better. 

If you want to learn more about the PMA Union campaign, you can read our press release (PDF link and full text below) and visit our website at PMAunion.com. We also have Instagram and Twitter accounts under the handle @PMA_Union where we’d be thrilled to receive support. Finally, please reach out to us at solidarity@pmaunion.com to continue the conversation. 

Members of the Division of Education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Lindsey Bloom

Anna Bockrath

Gina Buoncristiano

Leigh Dale

Amy Danford

Rosalie Hooper

Adam Rizzo

Sarah Shaw

James Stein

Greg Stuart

Angela Vassallo

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PMA Union Press Release (PDF)

May 22, 2020 For immediate release:

PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART WORKERS FORM UNION

Today, staff from across the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) announce our intent to unionize in affiliation with AFSCME DC47.

We have collected authorization cards from a supermajority of union-eligible staff and are requesting voluntary recognition from the museum’s senior management. Voluntary recognition of staff unions has been granted recently at other cultural organizations, including the LA Museum of Contemporary of Art and The Shed, and clears the way for more expeditious and collaborative bargaining.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art serves the people of Philadelphia, and we must emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as a safe, accessible, and equitable place where all Philadelphians can engage with the arts. For this to be possible, working people must have a seat at the table in museum decision-making. By unionizing, we are taking important steps to ensure that the eventual reopening of the museum prioritizes visitor and staff safety; to empower staff in the face of incidents of harassment and discrimination like those publicized in January of this year; and to prevent the financial impact of the museum’s closure from landing on the programs that serve our community and the workers who are already the most vulnerable. It has never been more important for workers to have a say in our own working conditions, especially when our workplaces are also public spaces.

We are facing challenges that our institution and city have never faced before. We know that whatever the future brings, we will be better able to face it with an empowered workforce that can bring all our passion and creativity to bear in service to our community and collection. We are eager to take on these challenges in solidarity with one another and in cooperation with management, executive leadership, and the Board of Trustees, which is why we have requested voluntary recognition.

The new PMA Union will be affiliated with AFSCME DC47. District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME DC47) represents workers at several Philadelphia cultural organizations, including the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Zoo, as well as about 6,000 other professional workers in the city’s public and private sectors. AFSCME is the leading union for representing museum professionals nationally and covers workers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Tolerance, Milwaukee Public Museum, and other institutions.

We are unionizing to win a seat at the bargaining table, to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives and livelihoods, and to ensure that the PMA continues to be a leader in Philadelphia and the nation. We are unionizing out of love for the arts, the museum, and each other.

We hope that museum leadership and our Board of Trustees will see that a unionized workforce will create a stronger, more resilient museum, and look forward to voluntary recognition and a collaborative bargaining process.

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Featured Image: Graphics for the PMA Union by Nick Massarelli.

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