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Art & Politics : Unionisation at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Today for Art & Politics we are exploring the possibility of unionisation at the Philadephia Museum of Art.

Through Art & Politics, Art From Us and Divvya Nirula bring you stories new and old of the symbiotic nature of art and politics!

In late May 2020, the staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art declared their intention to form a union. As procedure dictates, they subsequently filed a petition with management to this effect.

Labour unions are a channel for employees to communicate their expectations and grievances to employers. With unity in numbers being at the core of its structure. However, over the years, such unions have become infamous for tearing down companies. Or at least damaging reputations. Nonetheless, unions remain an important means to ensure fair wage. And best business practices.

A Need for Unionisation

The art world is notorious for underpaying its talent . And this is especially true in the case of museums. Relying predominantly on public funding, museums find it hard to generate adequate revenue and stay afloat. This is why most museums prefer to hire voluntary workers rather than permanent staff. Temporary volunteers do not receive the wage rate or benefits that a long-term member would. For positions that require hiring of long-term staff, salaries tend to be low. This helps museums incur minimum cost. And this is the very reason why there is a dire need for unionisation in art museums.

Only in the past year, several museums have faced employee backlash. Owing to their opposition against employee unions. Unions have been formed at the Guggenheim, New York, LA’s Museum of Tolerance, the New Museum and many more.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

In response to their employees’ petition, the PMA turned to the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The firm has a bad reputation in the market for quashing any attempt at union-formation. Further, they are the same ill-famed company that vehemently opposed the McDonald’s $15 minimum wage protest.

While it is common for businesses to oppose staff unionisation, it is nonetheless in bad taste. However, this move from the Philadelphia Museum of Art comes off as hostile. The Museum already gained bad publicity earlier this year for the James A. Cincotta scandal. The former manager allegedly assaulted other employees. Yet he had managed to keep his job owing to inaction on part of the museum authorities. By looking to Morgan Lewis for help, the PMA seems to be reducing employee morale even further. The decision is particularly concerning in the current shutdown scenario. Where institutions across the globe are suffering massive revenue cuts. And are looking at downsizing.


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