The Philadelphia Museum of Art became home to one of the largest museum unions in the country on Thursday as 89 percent of eligible employees voted to join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
The 181-22 vote came after a two-month campaign during which museum managers attempted to convince staff that collective bargaining was unnecessary and that reforms would improve a work environment roiled by recent complaints about the conduct of former managers and the process by which those complaints are handled.
Executives embarked on a staff-wide listening tour, commissioned a consultant to conduct a “cultural assessment” of the workplace, and created an anonymous hotline for reporting human resources-related violations or concerns.
But the measure to join the union passed anyway. Nearly 250 employees from departments across the museum will be eligible to join the union, more than half of all employees.
“I’m feeling pure and utter joy,” said Nicole Cook, the program manager for graduate academic partnerships and a member of the union’s organizing committee. “Today shows that all the work we did along the way was worth it.”
In May, the museum refused to voluntarily recognize the union, which led to hearings before the National Labor Relations Board a month later.
In a statement, museum director Timothy Rub said that the museum would respect today’s outcome. “As we move towards the development of a collective bargaining agreement,” he said, “we pledge to work in good faith to achieve the best outcome for our staff and for this institution.”
In July, findings from the cultural assessment showed that employees wanted to see more accountability from leadership and greater diversity. A month earlier, Black employees criticized Mr. Rub and president Gail Harrity for sending a letter to staff that condemned the city’s predominantly peaceful protests against police brutality as “compromised by the looting and destruction of property” while stating that “every individual life matters.” The executives later apologized for their words.
Carpenters and security guards at the museum are already members of smaller collective bargaining units.
The vote Thursday came as the museum contends with the harsh economic realities of the coronavirus pandemic that forced it and so many museums to close. Earlier this week, executives announced that its work force of nearly 600 would shrink by 23 percent with 85 layoffs and another 42 workers accepting voluntary separation agreements. Administrators made the decision to help offset an anticipated budget deficit of $6.5 million.
Several employees said they believe the union will help them protect their rights going forward.
“I’m feeling hopeful that we can actually affect real change and advocate for our safety in the workplace,” said Adam Rizzo, an educator at the museum. “Now the museum will have to listen to us and treat workers with respect and dignity because we can hold them accountable.”