A wide swath of workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art have voted to unionize.
Ballots cast by employees and tallied Thursday came to 181 in favor and 22 against representation by AFSCME District Council 47, union officials said.
“We are all incredibly happy and excited to get to this point,” said Nicole Cook, an Art Museum employee and union organizer. “It works out to an 89% victory, which feels really great. The win was very emphatic.”
The museum officially has seven days to challenge the election, said Paul Dannenfelser, representative and organizer for D.C. 47. “As soon as those seven days pass, we will deliver a letter to the museum asking to sit down and bargain our first contract,” he said.
The museum does not plan to contest the election, according to a spokesperson. In a statement, director and CEO Timothy Rub said, “Just as we respected the right of staff to organize at the outset, we also respect today’s outcome. 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.”
In May, more than two-thirds of eligible employees signed union-authorization cards, and organizers asked management to voluntarily recognize the group at that point. Management declined to do so.
While organizers said there were many reasons behind the union drive, complaints against two Art Museum supervisors provided the movement with energy. Organizers hoped that union representation would “empower staff in the face of incidents of harassment and discrimination like those publicized in January of this year,” they said in a statement in May, when total employment at the museum stood at about 500 employees.
The newly unionized workers come from across departments at the museum, including education, visitor services, conservation, retail, development, the curatorial staff, and others. Many of these same departments were hit hard by layoffs announced earlier this week. The total reduction in staffing comes to about 23% through a combination of voluntary separation agreements and layoffs.
Given staff cuts, it was not clear what the size of the bargaining unit would be, Dannenfelser said, though it was likely to be between 200 and 300 employees.
No parameters have been set for a contract, Cook said, though “better transparency, in general and both around pay and benefits” are two of the “big-picture things we’re looking for.”