Union organizers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, seeking to hold an NLRB-supervised election, say that museum management has declined to speak with them and has hired a “union-busting” law firm with a global reach, Philadelphia-based Morgan Lewis, to delay and ultimately derail the unionization effort.
On May 22, employees informed art museum management that a “super majority” of election authorization cards from eligible employees had been collected and had been filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Organizers requested a voluntary recognition of a union affiliation with AFSCME District Council 47, which represents most of the city’s white-collar workers, according to Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47.
Since then, organizers said, they have heard nothing back from the art museum.
“It’s been complete silence,” said one employee.
On Monday, however, the organizers learned that the museum had retained Morgan Lewis to represent it before the NLRB and that the law firm is meeting with museum supervisors to brief them on labor law.
An employee statement issued Wednesday afternoon characterizes Morgan Lewis as a “union avoidance” law firm. The law firm says on its website that it helps clients "avoid union penetration, and strategically shape bargaining units to minimize potential union organizing victories.”
Art museum management issued an unsigned statement late Wednesday affirming employees’ “right to organize." The statement characterized Morgan Lewis as “long-standing outside counsel" employed “to help guide us through the unionization process as governed by the National Labor Relations Act."
“We also believe that it will be essential to our ongoing efforts to work cooperatively with the union and with the NLRB as we move forward in the process,” the museum statement said. The reference was to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union elections.
Organizers said a major issue is who might be included in the PMA union. Organizers want all eligible employees to be represented — about half the museum’s 500-member staff.
One employee said the museum and its legal representatives disagreed with having such a broadly defined union. As a result, the employee said, they are seeking to “stretch out the process," stalling unionization momentum and perhaps peeling off supporters.
The museum officials and their lawyers were not available last night for comment. District Council 47 officials did not return requests for comment.
Employees said they were troubled by what they see as delaying tactics. But museum officials said managers need to have an “understanding of the unionization process and the rights and responsibilities of each party in the interest of neutrality and respect.”