A majority of workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is seeking to unionize, formally requesting on Friday that the National Labor Relations Board oversee a union election at the institution.
Union organizers have collected a “super majority” of election authorization cards from eligible employees at the museum, Cathy Scott, president of AFSCME District Council 47, said Friday. She said more than 65% of those workers had signed.
In a letter sent Friday to Timothy Rub, museum director and chief executive, and Leslie Anne Miller, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, organizers also requested a voluntary recognition of the union, which would be affiliated with District Council 47.
District Council 47 currently represents most white-collar employees of the city, including workers at the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Zoo. It also represents workers at several museums around the country.
Neither Rub nor Miller could be reached Friday evening. A spokesperson for the 500-employee museum acknowledged that the museum had received the letter and “recognizes the right to organize."
“The museum will give it close attention following the holiday weekend,” the spokesman said.
Alex Kauffman, a postdoctoral curatorial fellow at the museum, said there were many reasons for the unionization drive.
"I think the main unifying reasons are worker safety and worker voice in decision-making,” he said. “That does not currently exist at the museum. And we think it’s important that now, more than ever, workers on the floor have a say in their workplace.”
Organizers cited what they called inappropriate or abusive incidents involving supervisors in recent years. In January. articles in the New York Times and The Inquirer detailed complaints about the behavior of a museum supervisor toward women employees. Another Inquirer article focused on a supervisor who employees said also had physically abused subordinates.
Neither supervisor remains at the museum, which was seeking to address its problems when COVID-19 curtailed most operations.
While the organizers said that the union effort is not directly linked to the coronavirus pandemic that has kept the museum closed since mid-March, they suggested it represented a response, in a sense, to the crisis.
“By unionizing, we are taking important steps to ensure that the eventual reopening of the museum prioritizes visitor and staff safety; to empower staff in the face of incidents of harassment and discrimination like those publicized in January of this year; and to prevent the financial impact of the museum’s closure from landing on the programs that serve our community and the workers who are already the most vulnerable," the organizers said in a statement.