Tag Archives: labor practices

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.

The Museum Salary Conundrum & a 21st Century Salary Agenda

Written by Mike Murawski

In recent years, there has certainly been increased awareness and discussion about salaries within the museum profession.  I can speak from my own place within the field of museum education when I say that this has become a very frequent (and more urgent) topic of conversation at conferences, leadership convenings, and professional meetings in recent months.  Thanks to the efforts of museum activists involved with movements such as Museum Workers Speak, #MuseumsRespondtoFerguson, protests at individual museums, and several leaders in our field, we are seeing an increase in awareness around museum labor practices, hiring, and worker pay as well as the intersection of these issues with race, gender, and class.

Last week, Joan Baldwin wrote an insightful and widely-read piece entitled “Museums and the Salary Conundrum” via the Leadership Matters blog — a site that emerged in conjunction with the 2013 book of the same name written with Anne Ackerson and studying museum leadership in history and cultural heritage organizations. In her post, Baldwin so clearly and boldly frames the problem of museum salaries:

“we work in an underpaid, under-resourced field. And for too long, too many people have told us that it is such a privilege to participate, that we should suck it up, deal with the fact that we’re thirty and still need roommates to pay the rent, and revel in the fact that we have a museum position.”

Joan quickly followed her post with another this week entitled “The Salary Agenda,” in which she and Anne take a stab at what they think a Museum Salary Agenda for the 21st Century could look like.  I really appreciated this action-focused series of items, which can begin to help the conversation focus on real change — from professional organizations and institutions to graduate programs and individuals.  Here is a quick repost of their Agenda, and I invite everyone to read their entire post and add comments to the already-active conversation on their blog.

From Leadership Matters:

What Professional Associations and Museum Service Organizations Can Do: 

  • Establish and promote national salary standards for museum positions requiring advanced degrees.
  • Encourage museums to demonstrate the importance of human capital in their organizations.
  • Make salary transparency part of the StEPS (AASLH) and accreditation process (AAM).
  • Support organizations in understanding the need for endowment to support staff salaries. A building and a collection don’t guarantee a museum’s future. People do.
  • Create a national working group for #Museumstaffmatters.

What Institutions Can Do: 

  • Encourage networking and individual staff development.
  • Make every effort to provide salaries that exceed the Living Wage.
  • Educate boards regarding the wastefulness of staff turnover.
  • Make criteria for salary levels transparent.
  • Examine the gaps among the director’s salary, the leadership team and the remaining staff.
  • Offer equitable health and family leave benefits (and make them available on Day One of a new hire’s tenure).

What Individuals Can Do: 

  • Do your homework. Understand the community and region where you plan to work.
  • Use the Living Wage index.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Be prepared to say no. A dream job isn’t a dream if your parents are still paying your car insurance and your mobile phone bills.
  • Ask about the TOTAL package not just salary. If you are the trailing spouse and don’t need health insurance but do need time, make that part of your negotiations.
  • Network. Know what’s going on in your field, locally, regionally, nationally.

What Graduate Programs Can Do:

  • Be open about job placement statistics
  • Teach students to negotiate salaries and benefits.
  • Teach students to calculate a Living Wage plus loan payments and quality of life.
  • Encourage networking, mentoring and participation in the field.

Just as Joan and Anne are not speaking from a position of having solved all these problems, neither am I.  However, I wanted to share their recent writings and ideas as a way to ensure that this conversation remains strong within the field of museum education.  As we enter the spring season of conferences (AAM, NAEA, etc.), let’s make sure to keep these issues at the forefront of many of our conversations about diversity, inclusion, and leadership and work toward making appropriate and necessary changes within our professional organizations and institutions.

Thank you to Joan (and Anne) for sparking another important exchange around these vital issues to our field, and thanks to all the museum thinkers and activists pushing this issue through Twitter chats each week and in-person meet-ups across the country.

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100+ participants at the #MuseumWorkersSpeak rogue session at AAM 2015. Photo from Museum Workers Speak.

Header image: Flickr photo by Tax CreditsCC BY 2.0