Security guards seeking to form a union at the Philadelphia Museum of Art have received some outside support from area political figures just days before a vote on the union is scheduled.
The 130 guards are employees of AlliedBarton, a Conshohocken security firm. In addition to providing about 80 percent of the museum's guards, AlliedBarton supplies many large local institutions with much of their manned security.
The Art Museum guards are scheduled to vote tomorrow and Saturday on whether to recognize the Philadelphia Security Officers Union, an independent group, as their collective bargaining unit.
In letters delivered this week, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady wrote each guard to "express my support as a fellow Philadelphian [and] as a lifelong union member."
Brady reminded workers that they have a right to form a union under the National Labor Relations Act.
"Hundreds of Philadelphians have been writing letters and making phone calls to the museum asking them to hear you," Brady continued. "I know that the museum has forwarded all these letters to AlliedBarton. So, your neighbors' voices are being heard."
A spokesman at AlliedBarton said he was unaware of any such letters.
Guards also have received a letter from Democratic Councilman William K. Greenlee informing them that jobs are protected by law for at least 90 days if AlliedBarton loses its museum contract for any reason. The law, he wrote, was enacted to ensure that subcontracted workers retain their jobs and are given a fair chance of being promptly rehired when a subcontract changes hands.
Last Thursday, City Council passed a resolution urging the Art Museum to maintain its neutrality regarding the election. A museum spokesman reiterated last night that the museum had sought to remain impartial; he added that it "has shared letters it has received" with AlliedBarton.
Until the early 1990s, guards at the museum were unionized city employees. But in a budget-cutting move, then-Mayor Edward G. Rendell pushed the museum to subcontract the work.
Museum guards are paid $10.03 an hour, which many say brings them an annual salary well below $20,000 because of irregular hours week to week. In 1992, before the city outsourced security, guards made as much as $14 an hour, organizers said.
Last night, guards held a prayer vigil at the museum in support of the union effort.