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Philadelphia Museum of Art Workers Unionize, With 89% Majority Vote

The Philadelphia Museum of Art (photo by via Shinya Suzuki via Flickr)

Workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) have voted to unionize, with an 89% majority of votes in favor. The PMA Union will be affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 47 (AFSCME DC 47), becoming one of the largest unionized museum workforces in the country.

The workers publicly announced their decision to schedule a union election in June, citing issues of pay, compensation, and benefits, as well as transparency. The museum faced a series of workplace harassment controversies this year related to two former employees, Joshua R. Helmer and and James A. Cincotta.

News of the union election came amid a wave of staff cuts at PMA, which said it projected a $6.5 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year due to the pandemic. The vote follows significant layoffs announced on Tuesday, of 85 employees who were furloughed in June.

In another victory, the PMA Union will be wall-to-wall — a term used to describe unions where different types of employees are covered by the same contract and bargaining agent. Nicole Cook, Program Manager for Graduate Academic Partnerships at PMA and member of the union organizing committee, told Hyperallergic that the museum had initially asked for two bargaining units, divided between "core" and "non-core" departments. The committee fought back, arguing that hierarchical distinctions diminished the role of employees who are integral to the institution.

PMA had also declined voluntary recognition of the union when workers first approached leadership about organizing in May. Instead, the museum told staff in an email that "all eligible employees should have the opportunity to decide through a vote if they want union representation."

A statement shared by PMA Union says that "an outpouring of public support helped the staff move toward a ballot election."

"In voting to unionize, PMA staff join millions of other workers organizing to improve their working conditions and workplace safety during the pandemic," the union said, adding that it will be "the first major US museum to be organized in a 'wall-to-wall' union."

"The election results today are a vindication of the work we've done over the past year, building solidarity and empowering staff to work together for a more democratic, equitable, and inclusive workplace culture," PMA Union told Hyperallergic. "We're so proud of this victory in the face of so many challenges."

Given the limitations on group gatherings imposed by the coronavirus, votes were cast by mail-in ballot between July 9 and July 30. They were due August 6 and counted this morning.

"Just as we respected the right of staff to organize at the outset, we also respect today's outcome," a museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic. "As we move towards the development of a collective bargaining agreement, we pledge to work in good faith to achieve the best outcome for our staff and for this institution."

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