Workers at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology announced Friday that they intend to unionize in affiliation with AFSCME District Council 47 and join workers from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the recently formed Museum and Cultural Workers Local 397.
Last May, workers at the Art Museum took the same action, and in August they voted to unionize and be represented by District Council 47.
“We have collected authorization cards from a super-majority of union-eligible staff and are requesting voluntary recognition from the museum’s senior management,” Penn Museum Workers United said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Penn Museum could not be immediately reached for comment.
In April, the museum became embroiled in a controversy over its handling of the remains of at least one child who died in the city’s 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound, resulting in the deaths of 11 people inside. The University of Pennsylvania has since apologized for keeping the remains rather than returning them to the family of Tree Africa.
Earlier this year, Christopher Woods became the first Black director of the museum, which is in the midst of a multiyear, $100 million renovation project.
Penn Museum Workers United said in its statement that workers “are dedicated to positive transformation. As physical improvements change the spaces where we work, we recognize the need for reflection on past practices and a deeper structural change to how we work, with each other and the community.”
The group added: “This is why we want to form a union. The museum has made a commitment to tackle barriers to equity for our staff, public, and research and community partners. We, the workers, are stewards of the collections and are dedicated to the museum’s mission of uncovering the diverse stories of our shared humanity.”
District Council 47 represents workers at several local cultural institutions, including the Art Museum, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Zoo, as well as about 6,000 employees in the city’s public and private sectors.