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Philadelphia Musuem of Art and workers resolve longstanding pay raise dispute, but mistrust and tensions remain.

Union officials say workers are pleased with the settlement, but strained relations are far from healed.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) workers are on the 13th day of their strike for a labor contract that provides fair and equitable wages and affordable health care.  They picket on the west side of the museum on Oct. 7, 2022.
Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) workers are on the 13th day of their strike for a labor contract that provides fair and equitable wages and affordable health care. They picket on the west side of the museum on Oct. 7, 2022.Read moreCharles Fox / Staff Photographer

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and its workers have finally reached a settlement in the contentious, yearlong dispute over pay raises called for in their 2022 labor contract.

The agreement also includes putting the pending arbitration case over the dispute on hold until museum management and employees start negotiating a new contract in 2025, according to Maggie Fairs, spokesperson for the PMA.

In the shorter term, the museum workers will soon be paid some of the additional money they’ve been waiting for.

“This is something the [union] membership has fought really hard for, and it’s definitely been a large effort on everybody’s part. So we’re definitely considering this a win through the power of collective action,” said Halcyone Schiller, president of AFSCME Local 397, the union for Philadelphia cultural workers.

Fairs said it’s museum leadership’s hope the settlement is the start of improved relations between museum management and the workers.

“It has always been the goal of the museum to reach an equitable resolution that recognizes our employees for their contributions to this institution,” she said. “The staff here are deeply committed to the museum’s success, and it is our hope that this measure will help guide a collaborative workplace at PMA forward.”

But that goal may not be easily achieved. Union leaders and members say staff morale remains a serious issue after a bitter, nearly three-week strike in 2022, followed by the longevity pay dispute. In the years prior, staff had dealt with alleged abusive behavior under previous management. Sasha Suda, PMA’s current director who started her job the first day of the strike, cited healing between management and staff as a goal early in her tenure.

Union leadership say there is still a long way to go on that front.

“I know management has expressed that they would like to see this as a turning point in our relationship,” Schiller said. “I would love that to be the case, but I’ll wait until I see it to believe it.”

Under the settlement reached, the museum has agreed to make two lump-sum payments to the union, one in the current fiscal year and the other in the new fiscal year, said Fairs. She declined to specify the amounts.

In the dispute between the PMA union and its management, the workers had contended that their contract — their first, won after two years of tense negotiations in 2022 — called for them to receive $500 longevity pay increases for each of their 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th work anniversaries, retroactively including the time before the union contract started.

PMA management, however, claimed the contract’s intent was to give them a pay raise if any of those anniversaries actually occurred during the three years of the contract. A worker would only get a raise for that anniversary.

The settlement, union officials described to the workers Wednesday night, allows for $500 bonuses — not wage increases — for each of the five-year-increment anniversaries workers completed by July 1, 2023. Someone who had reached 20 years of service by that date will get a $2,000 bonus, according to Schiller. On this year’s July 1, that employee will be entitled to another $2,000.

Schiller estimated that the settlement is costing PMA less than $150,000 — about the same amount the union claimed the longevity pay increases would have cost over the three years of the union contract.

“Membership of the union was very receptive and supportive of the settlement reached,” she said, “and we are celebrating a collective win.”