Skip to content

Local Tourist: Visit The PMA Union On The Picket Line

October 13, 2022

Hello and welcome to another edition of Local Tourist, your monthly recommendation for where to go and what to do around Philly. While this series is usually posted exclusively for our Patreon members, this month is a special joint post between Conrad and Eric that we are posting publicly because of its importance and timeliness.

This month, the best thing to do is visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union on the picket line.

“But I’m not part of the union… why would I visit the picket line?” you might be asking. Here’s why: because you have no idea how hard it is to go on strike. We certainly didn’t either, but we’re learning. And the biggest thing we’ve learned is that workers on strike need all the support they can get. But there’s a plot twist: supporting a union on strike is actually really easy! So today, we’re laying out the history of the union and why they’re striking, and providing 10 ways you can effectively support them. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that you could take all 10 actions in under two hours. We hope you will!

If you’re ready to help, feel free to skip to the bottom. If you’d like to learn more about how the strike came about and why you should support the workers, read on.

Here’s the current situation for staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). They can’t afford the PMA’s healthcare options. They can’t take paid parental leave. They’ve seen dozens of talented colleagues depart for other opportunities and dozens more full-time jobs converted into part-time contract positions. They’ve endured harassment.

But above all, they have not received a raise in three years, despite record inflation. On the whole, PMA staff are paid about 30% less than their peers in comparable roles across the country; meanwhile, PMA executives are paid significantly more than their peers nationally.

All of these issues and more have been bubbling for years. But when the PMA laid off or offered voluntary separation packages to more than 100 employees during the pandemic, it seems the implications for job security finally brought the situation at the Museum to a head.

On August 6th, 2020, eligible employees voted overwhelmingly to form a union in affiliation with AFSCME DC 47. They have been in contract negotiations with PMA management since then, but still do not have their first contract. That’s right, it’s been TWO YEARS without a contract.

Immediately after the union drive started, the PMA hired the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to represent them in negotiations. Allow us to tell you a bit about this firm:

  • In 1981, the Reagan administration hired Morgan Lewis to break the PATCO air-traffic controllers strike, resulting in the firing of 11,345 air traffic controllers. This is widely considered the opening salvo in the war on labor. [source]
  • In 2000, the USPS hired Morgan Lewis to represent management in arbitration after failed contract negotiations with the American Postal Workers Union. [source]
  • From 2005 to 2021, Morgan Lewis represented Donald Trump, and during his presidency was accused of helping him use the office for personal gain. [source] Problematically, Trump also put a Morgan Lewis lawyer on the National Labor Relations Board.
  • In 2012, McDonald’s hired Morgan Lewis to stop the formation of a McDonald’s union and to oppose the still ongoing Fight for 15 campaign. [source] Yes, McDonald’s workers have been trying to get a national $15/hr minimum wage for ten years.
  • Off and on since at least 2014, Amazon has retained Morgan Lewis to prevent unions from forming in their warehouses across the country. [source]
  • Morgan Lewis also represents the anti-union Coalition for a Democratic Workplace and the anti-OSHA Coalition for Workplace Safety.
  • Meanwhile, Morgan Lewis has been recorded in the Wall Street Journal as a member of the “$1,000-Plus an Hour Club,” which does exactly what it says on the tin, and begs the question: how much has the PMA spent on this law firm instead of on their employees?

So, do we think that the PMA is “negotiating in good faith” as they’ve repeatedly claimed in social media posts since the strike began? Absolutely not. In fact, when Amazon hired Morgan Lewis in 2020 to stop a union from forming in Alabama, one legal expert said “that is not a hire you make if you’re playing nice.”

And indeed, PMA management has not been playing nice. On August 26, 2022, the PMA Union filed eight Unfair Labor Practice charges against the PMA with the National Labor Relations Board. The charges allege that PMA management has repeatedly violated federal law by union-busting during contract negotiations.

On August 30th, 2022, after two years of negotiating, the Union voted with a 99% majority to authorize a strike. Management failed to meet their demands.

On September 16th, 2022, the Union held a one-day warning strike. Management failed to meet their demands.

On September 26th, 2022, the Union went on strike. Since then, management has not even attended a negotiation.

On October 9th, 2022, the PMA began silencing regular Philadelphians by turning off the comments on their social media posts going forward. Cumulatively, their 20 previous Instagram posts had engendered a whopping ~3,500 comments in support of the union.

Today, October 13th, is the 18th day of the strike, likely making it the longest museum strike in U.S. history (it’s hard to get a clear answer on that). No negotiations are scheduled and management has said that the brand new director of the Museum, Sasha Suda, whose salary exceeds $700,000, will not be a part of the negotiation process. So let’s make it an unlucky 13th for PMA management, shall we?

Here are the 10 best ways you can support the PMA Union, all in under two hours:

  • Cancel your PMA membership, if you have one. Make sure you tell them why you are canceling.
  • Do not visit the PMA or the Rodin Museum (which is administered by the PMA) while workers are striking.
  • Donate to the PMA Union strike fund. The workers are not being paid right now. This is where their money to survive comes from.
  • March with workers on the picket line (and don’t forget that employees are also striking at the Perelman Building and the Rodin Museum). They need your moral support! You can also help the workers turn away potential visitors—Eric did this several times while marching with them.
  • Bring food and snacks to the workers on the picket line. Remember, they are forgoing their paychecks right now in order to spend all day walking in a circle and chanting. That’s exhausting.
  • Sign the union’s letter to the Museum’s CEO, COO, and Board Chair.
  • Sign the union’s Community Letter of Support.
  • Share your support of the PMA Union on your social media accounts to let your friends and family know about the strike and how they can support the workers.
  • Comment on [older] PMA social media posts and ask the Museum to meet worker demands.
  • Write to your councilperson. (Why? Because the City covers the PMA’s rent and utilities.)

Thanks for reading. No contract, no Matisse.

—Conrad Benner and Eric Dale

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: