On Oct. 14, unionized employees at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) achieved a monumental contract victory with museum management, ending a 19-day strike. The tentative agreement, which runs through June 30, 2025, raised the hourly minimum wage, reduced health care plan costs, provided across-the-board wage increases and paid parental leave, and instituted the museum’s first ever longevity raises. Following this victory, union members are hopeful that their efforts may help reshape the museum industry as a whole.
“There were 5 issues going into the strike. We got all 5,” the PMA Union posted on Twitter Oct. 14. “Management claimed they wouldn’t move. They did.”
The union first formed in 2020, when PMA employees voted overwhelmingly to join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Shakerra Grays, the Interactive Project Manager for PMA, said that employees unionized “in response to physical, verbal, and sexual harassment that went ignored by museum leadership.” One such case included that of a male manager’s harassment of several women on staff.
Though the PMA union is one of the country’s largest museum unions, management failed to respect it at first, trapping the union in negotiations for two years. This came to a head on Aug. 26, when union leadership filed eight Unfair Labor Practice charges against museum management, accusing the PMA of repeatedly engaging in union-busting activity during contract negotiations. A few weeks later on Sept. 16, union leadership launched their initial warning strike, demanding more reasonable health care costs, parental leave, a minimum wage pay increase to $16.75 an hour, incremental raises, and longevity increases for staff over five years.
“We honestly just wanted to be able to have a basic standard of living where we don’t need second jobs to pay for rent and groceries,” said Karen Conway, coordinator of events and dining at PMA. However, when museum leadership failed to meaningfully address the warning strike and Unfair Labor Practice charges, nearly 200 museum workers began what would become their 19-day strike on Sept. 26, coinciding with the first day of PMA’s new director and CEO, Sasha Suda.