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The Philadelphia Art Museum is an icon of the City of Brotherly Love, and there’s no shortage of art lovers who wouldn’t consider a chance to work there to be a dream job. But passion and prestige don’t pay the bills, as many museum workers have found while being severely undercompensated for their labor. After a public spreadsheet displaying the vast disparities in salaries at the museum was circulated in 2019 by a group called Art Museum and Transparency, workers at the PMA began to organize for a union. In summer 2022, the PMA Union held a successful three-week strike after two years of contract negotiations. The Real News speaks with Adam Rizzo, museum educator and president of AFSCME Local 397, and Amanda Bock, assistant curator and co-lead shop steward of the PMA Union.

Post-Production: Adam Coley


Vince Quiles:  Hello, everyone. This is Vince reporting for The Real News Network. I’m the lead organizer from Store 4112 at Home Depot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today we’re going to talk about one of the union fights that helped to inspire me during our organizing drive.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a staple in the city, something that we reflect on a lot when we see movies like Rocky and general day-to-day activity within the city. Whether you’re a tourist coming in or you’re somebody who’s lived in the city for a long time, it’s definitely one of the symbols of the city. Over the summer, there was a major strike fight and today we have with us Adam Rizzo from AFSCME Local 397, Museum Educator, and Amanda Bock, Co-Lead Shop Steward, PMA Union, and Assistant Curator. Guys, thanks for joining me.

So just to get started off, I wanted to talk a little bit about you guys and shape your role within this fight. So please tell us about what it is you do at the Museum of Art, as well as what inspired you to get active in organizing.

Adam Rizzo:  Sure. I can start. So I’ve been working at the art museum for about nine years now. I am a museum educator in school and teacher programs in the education department. My day-to-day job at the museum is working with K-12 students who come to the museum on their field trips, which is an absolute joy. I get to work with the wonderful kids of the school district of Philadelphia. Then I also work with teachers; helping them to use our collection in their classroom, I develop classroom resources, and I work with college students. So I get to work with a lot of different audiences. I get to use the museum as my classroom, which is really a treat and a privilege.

It was a couple of years ago now, probably four years ago, 2019, when a bunch of us started to realize that the museum needed to make some big changes. The thing that got me started in particular was an open-source Excel spreadsheet that was circulated among museum professionals. It was from a group called Art Museum and Transparency and it basically asked folks to input their salary, their job title, what benefits they receive, and share it with the world. At first, when I saw it, I was really nervous. I thought I could get in trouble for sharing that type of information. I’d been taught that you don’t talk about money, that that’s improper, first of all. I also had internalized this idea that there’s some prestige associated with working at an art museum that is somehow compensatory and means that you shouldn’t expect a living wage. And also that there were some values in public service that also meant that you should expect to be paid less.

When I saw the data in that spreadsheet, I immediately noticed that there were tons of inequities within our institution, but also across institutions throughout this country and even internationally. The common thing was that our wages were wildly depressed and our benefits were garbage. So that got conversations going. One particular example in my department was one of my colleagues who sat right across from me and had the same level job as me, had been working at the museum longer than me, and had more experience than me was making $7,000 a year less than me. The only explanation we could come up with when we opened up that conversation and started talking honestly was that I’m a man and she’s a woman. So those types of inequities got blown open very quickly and that’s what got me started in this work. Amanda, I wonder what your thoughts are.

Amanda Bock:  Yeah, so my job at the museum is a curatorial position. My work involves essentially bringing artwork into the museum that we acquire. I organize exhibitions that people come to see and do research for those exhibitions. I write books for the museum about art and art history. So my job is a little different. I also came from a love of education and about making art accessible and available to people was something that really brought me into this work. I’ve been in that role at the museum for about five years, and prior to that, I held a fellowship at the museum. Which, on a good day, I would say it’s like an apprenticeship, where you learn how to do the job that I have now. On a bad day, I would say it’s an underpaid version of my own job now. So I was in that capacity for four years here at the museum with a little gap in between.

Actually, Adam, I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with you, but it relates to the salary spreadsheet. So it’s on my mind after your comments, which is that I remember sitting, paralyzed in fear of this document because I knew that I had taken a job where I was underpaid. I took it for all the reasons that Adam said: in jobs like mine, there might be three job postings a year and one of them will be someplace totally undesirable to live, and the other two will have 200 applicants at least, most of whom are qualified. So when I took this job, I was so relieved to have a job in a field that I love and I knew that I was not getting paid enough.

I finally opened it, and there were a couple of other people at the time who held the same position as I did at our institution. One of them had filled it out and was getting paid $14,000 less a year than I was. So it was a shocking journey into how depressed the wages were at the museum and how big the gap is between the prestige of the work that I do and the reality of compensation. That was, for me, also a real motivating factor in wanting to organize: wanting to stay in the job that I love and knowing that the economic realities of that for me and all of my colleagues were not pretty.

Vince Quiles:  I can totally see how those would be animating factors. Generally, whenever you’re in a museum of art, you see all the lovely paintings. You’re in a world of wonder, and you get so sucked into the art itself, you don’t consider the importance of the people doing the work. In a way, it feels a little bit detached but when I hear you speak on the things you’re speaking about when you’re talking about unfair wages, people being paid at various amounts and there’s no explanation for it, it reminds me of things that we face at Home Depot. Conversations that we’ve had with people in other industries, where, again, there’s this fear that’s put around talking about what it is that you’re paid for.

But at the end of the day, if you’re paying people for a set standard, there should be no concern about that. We should be able to say, hey, Adam, we pay you for this because you do X, X, and X. This is the value you bring. The same thing with you, Amanda. And yet there’s a very obvious circumstance that happens where companies like to take advantage of the fact that you live in that fear and look at what happens when you come out of that. So I’m sure once that document went around, the art museum was probably not very happy about the conversations that were going on. I know you guys were in a three-year-long fight so if you can, can you walk me through some of the things that you faced both in your organizing drive as well as the strike itself?

Adam Rizzo:  Sure. I can get us started, and please, Amanda, at any point jump in. You were right there, too, although in a different position, which I’m sure Amanda will talk about. We started organizing shortly after the spreadsheet went viral and it started as informal conversations at people’s apartments and at bars, after work. I’m not sure we knew we were organizing at first. We were talking to each other, museums are super hierarchical and super siloed between departments, so I didn’t know Amanda before we started organizing. I didn’t know so many other people in different departments because our work never really overlapped and we were working in isolation from each other. So that was a real barrier that we had to overcome. The only way we did it was by having conversations with each other.

There were also some major harassment scandals that happened at the museum with some managers who were not held accountable for their actions for many years. In fact, one was promoted out to another museum and these stories were whispered about at the museum. We all knew these things had happened, but there was no accountability and people were feeling unsafe in their workplace. So that was another motivating factor to get people organizing. I’d say the museum, even after the spreadsheet went massively viral and was in all the newspapers, I don’t think they had any idea that it had the impact that it did. It was only after we went public and announced our intent to unionize that the museum started the union-busting fight. Up until then, there was probably a year when we were organizing behind the scenes and the museum seemed to have no idea what was happening. We did a good job of keeping it secret which was important. We were revised to keep it secret by lawyers who we were talking to, by organizers, and by folks at other museums who we were talking to.

It was a lot of work, getting to the point where you can even go public. There’s a lot of organizing that has to happen. We at a certain point realized we had to affiliate with a local union. We chose AFSCME because they had experience with library workers, with zoo workers, and other academic workers. So they seemed like a good fit for our group of humans. We wanted this to be a wall-to-wall union which meant we wanted it to represent every department that was eligible. Because oftentimes at museums, you’ll have a union for, say, the art installers, and it’s only them. We wanted everyone together so that we would have more power and more bargaining power and leverage.

When we finally affiliated with AFSCME, it was like dating a little bit, like interviewing different organizers. We went with AFSCME and they helped us kick our organizing drive into high gear: move from sticky notes on the wall with different people’s names on them, to organized spreadsheets where we were tracking who had been spoken to, who was supportive. Then we were collecting cards and we did that right up until the world shut down on March 13, 2020. We were about ready to go public, and then COVID happened and we were sent home from work that Friday and said, see you in two weeks. We’ll see what happens. We didn’t go back in two weeks, so that’s what happened up to that point. I wonder, Amanda if you have anything you want to add.

Amanda Bock:  I can speak a little bit to the obstacles that we faced once we went public, up until a point, and then Adam’s going to have to take over because one of the big obstacles that immediately became apparent was we were not the only people to realize that there would be power in a wall-to-wall union. It was very clear that our employer also recognized that and their first move was to try and bust up our bargaining unit and say that we did not have things in common. It’s classic playbook anti-union stuff. But in the case of a museum, there are not very many people who have the same job title and we have, right now, about 190 people in our unit. There are some jobs where there may be 10 or 15 people doing the same job but most of them are unique titles or two people doing the same work.

They were trying to make a case that we didn’t have enough in common to organize together, largely divided along professional and non-professional lines, which we all know are very arbitrary. We responded very smartly by live-tweeting the NLRB hearing about whether we could file for an election together and it went viral and was profoundly embarrassing, the things that were being said about, I might not have anything in common with someone who does fundraising. Well, I can’t do an exhibition without someone writing grants with me and someone raising money to help me bring work into the museum. So all our jobs are interconnected and it was very apparent to people in our field that this was bogus and the museum had a tough time with that and they eased off on most things.

But then the next step was, who’s the supervisor? That is largely why I was absent for most of the next nine months of our organizing. Because although I’ve never had anyone work under me in a direct way, I’ve never hired anybody or fired anybody. There was a real determination to conflate the prestige of my job with authority and the efforts to split the bargaining unit went all the way up to the NLRB for a handful of positions, including mine. Which, as you can tell by my being here today, did not work out in the museum’s favor. So I was very excited to then get involved in organizing again.

Vince Quiles:  That’s amazing because you consider the fact that, you guys said a wall-to-wall union is what’s going to be the most effective because ultimately, when you break these things down, it’s about leverage. The reason why you all were so afraid to talk about your wages once that sheet came around was because of how the art museum had leveraged itself to prevent you guys from doing so. Of course, the second workers start to do that, start to talk with one another –

What’s also comical and touching on that, is the fact that most employers like this like to proclaim, we’re a family, we’re together in this. Then it’s like, wow, now conveniently, apparently, we have no common interest, even though, to the point you guys raised, your job is interconnected. Whether it’s you, Amanda, curating the art; you, Adam, coming in afterward and doing a tour and educating people on the art she just curated; the person that’s cleaning the museum so that it’s actually fun to be in and it’s not crazy messy; people that do various different things within there, people that sell things within the gift shop in which people then go buy something and take that home with them and have a memory of that place for the rest of their life. Again, it’s funny how on one avenue, an employer may look to try and create this idea of solidarity. oh, yeah, we’re family, we’re together. Then the second you guys are like, yeah, you know what? You’re right. We are a family, and you’re abusing us, then it’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hey, maybe we’re not as much of a family as you guys say.

So then with that, it’s also important to stress to the audience – Because one of the things that we hope comes out of this is people understand more about organizing – I like that you guys touch on the clandestine aspect. Because in the end, when you look at it, the resources you have as workers are not going to be quite as much as the resource that the art museum has. I remember in previous conversations, Adam, you were telling me the people that are on the board of trustees are like Philadelphia royalty. So not only do they have a lot of money, they have a lot of connections. But getting mad at you guys for using your leverage, it’s very interesting and very comical how things will be played in a manner convenient for them.

 So then with that, moving on to the actual strike – And I know that’s probably where things were the most public – What were some of the oppositions you guys faced there?

Adam Rizzo:  I’d say rewinding a little bit, there was the moment that the pandemic started and we had to pause our organizing because we didn’t know what was going to happen: The NLRB shut down so there was a moment where we had to come back together and decide, do we want to move forward with this? Are people still interested? We started making phone calls and reaching out to folks and it turned out because of the precarity of the pandemic that people were even more interested in organizing. So we continued moving forward and we went public finally over the summer. We were given an election date: they were going to count our votes at the end of July. Two days before the votes were counted, the museum laid off about 100 people, most of whom were in the bargaining unit. 

We had very smart lawyers working with us from AFSCME who had created an election agreement so that even if there were reductions in force at the museum if they voted in the election, their votes would be counted. So it was a bittersweet win, but we won by a landslide: 89% voting yes. As I said, it was bittersweet, but it was a wonderful victory for us. As soon as we went public with the intent to have an election, the museum pulled out all the usual stops you would expect: they hired Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to represent them at the bargaining table. You might know them as the law firm that has been consistently fighting the Fight for 15. They are a union-avoidance law firm. So they did everything we expected they would do. That’s the good thing about union-busting lawyers: they’re not very creative.

We were able to inoculate folks to what was going to happen. We knew the message that was going to come out. It was a lot of, we respect our workers’ right to organize, but we don’t believe this is right for you. You won’t be able to talk to your boss in the same way. You won’t be able to advocate for yourself. You won’t get raises in the time that you’re negotiating. Not that we had gotten raises in the past, it was absurd. So that was the beginning of the campaign. When we got to the point that Amanda was talking about with the unit clarification, it became clear that they were really trying to divide us and eat away at the unit. Once that was resolved and the NLRB ruled in our favor, then we dove into negotiations which dragged on for two long years.

Throughout that time, the museum did what you would expect: they tried to move as slowly as possible and they fought us on everything. I should have expected it, is what I’m trying to say. There were no surprises. It was just the same thing over and over again. Their goal was to tire us out to make it so that maybe people would leave and stop this fight, maybe even decertify our union. Who knows? So we got to the point when we were finally talking about economics at the table and it was clear the museum wasn’t going to move. We had to make a decision and that decision was to escalate. We had done big rallies at the museum with thousands of people on the steps, we had done informational picketing. We had done all sorts of stuff but it wasn’t enough to move them to providing basic living wages.

Amanda Bock:  Can I jump in?

Adam Rizzo:  Yeah, please.

Amanda Bock:  This entire endeavor for me exposes my own naivete or maybe optimism about it but I was on the table team also, bargaining the contract, and I knew they knew about that salary spreadsheet. I knew that they knew that they were underpaying us. But I underestimated the undergirding of contempt that an institution can have for people who want basic provisions to be met. None of us were there asking for a pony or whatever, anything too fancy. We wanted wages that were keeping with inflation and with the cost of living in Philadelphia, which is not the cheap city it used to be to live in. We wanted paid parental leave for people so they did not have to take all of their sick and vacation time to raise a family and we wanted healthcare that people could actually afford to use.

I somehow thought that an appeal to logic or reason or empathy would get us somewhere and it got us almost nowhere. At that point, along with everyone else who was at the table, probably nine months or so from when we went on strike, we said, we have to start preparing for a strike because there’s no appealing to the humanity of these people. We are hitting a wall and we’re going to keep hitting a wall until we make something else happen.

Adam Rizzo:  I would add that one of the great tools that we had throughout those two years of negotiations, pretty much up until the end when we ended up switching gears a little bit during the strike and right up to the strike for bargaining – But we did open bargaining for the majority of our negotiation sessions which meant that anyone in the unit could attend via Zoom and see what was being talked about and what was being negotiated across the table. That was really powerful because you don’t have to explain to someone management’s bad behavior or what their positions are. They see it and they see the contempt that Amanda talked about. It comes across very clearly. That was a great tool for us in keeping people engaged and keeping people involved. 

But Amanda’s also right that you can’t call a strike out of the blue. It takes a lot of preparation. So we were looking at the calendar, looking at when we thought we’d be negotiating economic issues, and planning back from there, months out, to start talking to folks about what they were willing to do, what escalations they were open to.

Vince Quiles:  Real quick, I want to touch on the opening bargaining sessions. I remember, Adam, you and I before had a conversation and it’s really important to bring up: One of the common tactics that companies and corporations will use is, the union, they’re a third party, they’re this other group. But something that you said that really stuck with me was the fact that because you guys had open bargaining, people were coming, and they were saying, they’re trying to say that the union is the other side. But all of my buddies, all of my friends, all the people that I work with, are sitting on the union side. We’ve got a couple of union-busting lawyers who are sitting on the art museum’s side and they have not very nice things to say about us.

It helped to paint that picture, like you guys said, to show, ultimately, we as the workers are the ones that are the union. We are the ones that are trying to improve this situation. Whereas the art museum, as you were saying, Amanda, has no humanity when you think about it. It’s very easy to speak in platitudes and to say, we care about our workers and we appreciate them and all of the work that they do. But to your point, you were saying how this is not a city that’s quite as cheap to live in. This is also a city that can cut through the BS and see when people are lying. The way that we speak in this city is in the currency of action. Doesn’t matter what you say, it matters, ultimately, what you do. And you can see very clearly there that their actions are not lining up with their words.

Again, you guys aren’t being disrespectful in saying, there are some disparities that are going on. What’s happening? It’s basically like, how dare you, people who get to live a life working in a job that you love, have the audacity to say something to us? I could see how that would be such an animating factor. That’s such a display of brilliance in your guys’ strategy in terms of building up the energy for that strike because I know if I was sitting on that art museum side, I’d be like, wait, these guys said what? Oh, yeah, come on. Let’s go on strike.

Adam Rizzo:  I would say two things. One is we also were very transparent with members, both communicating with them in one-on-one conversations and email communications. We did a lot on social media which had a great effect on getting the community involved. Which was helpful when we got to the point of the strike. But the other thing is that you don’t organize and do all of the work to form a union and bargain a first contract if you don’t love the place you work or care about your work and your workplace. It’s like a second job that you don’t get paid for. It’s a passion. It’s something that you commit yourself to, pretty wholly. So it was often that the museum was, like you said, trying to third-party us. That was so hurtful for so many people because it couldn’t have been more untrue.

The other thing that was interesting was that the lawyers from Morgan Lewis, who were negotiating on the museum’s behalf, and even the lawyers who work in-house at the museum, have no idea how the museum functions on a day-to-day basis. So we would end up in these crazy conversations about — Amanda, do you remember, the curator of Irish art wants to do this? It was like, what are you talking about? This is insane. We would waste so much time on these hypotheticals that It was absurd. They were wasting our time. That was the strategy on their part.

Amanda Bock:  It was a really expensive one.

Adam Rizzo:  Yes. Oh, gosh. They must have spent fortunes.

Amanda Bock:  They could have just paid us.

Adam Rizzo:  Yeah.

Vince Quiles:  But that goes to show – And something I talk about with various organizers, and I know, Adam, you and I have spoken about this – Sometimes we’ll talk about the amount of money that a place makes. We’ll say, yo, the art museum, they make X amount of dollars. We tend to focus on the cost of things but in actuality, what it’s ultimately about is the power. That’s why they get so afraid when you guys try and form a wall-to-wall union, because they’re like, oh, snap. No matter where we’re at in this building, we have no support. It’s the workers that are sticking together. So the union is going to have all of the support. So there goes your leverage.

They’re so afraid of people in workplaces recognizing that, as you guys did, because then as we’re describing in this conversation and as we’ll continue to speak on throughout your guys’ strike, that ultimately puts you in a position to leverage that power and put them at a point where it’s like, you’re either going to have to do what we say or you’re going to lose crap-tons of money. Now, we can have a conversation and figure out what’s the fairest way to go about this. Because, again, something that is lost on employers all the time and is so important for workers to recognize, is the fact that these people don’t know your workplace better than you do. It logically doesn’t make sense.

If you’re there every day, 40 hours a week, some people 50, 60 hours a week, doing the same things over and over and over again, talking to the same people, working together in tandem all the time and seeing all aspects of that job; these people sitting in an office downtown or for other companies and corporations, they’re sitting across the country, like Home Depot down in Atlanta, they’re not going to know what’s going on in the actual place. So then it’s like, come on. We can give you guys that respect to say, hey, we’re a little money-hungry, but we can listen to you more. But that just shows how terrified they are of workers having power.

Adam Rizzo:  That’s true and there’s also this assumption that museum workers make a living wage which we often don’t because of the bloated budgets that museums have and the huge endowments that they have. That’s not the reality. During our negotiations, it came to our attention that there were folks at the museum who were making below the city’s minimum wage rate and we brought it to management’s attention. We were like, what’s going on? And they immediately raised them up to the city’s minimum wage which showed, first of all, that they were lying when they said they couldn’t make changes during the bargaining process, but also showed that unless we hold these people accountable, they’re not going to do it for themselves. So that was a real lesson for us, too, and we continued to put pressure on them about a lot of things.

Even now, about 90% of workers at the art museum are on a high-deductible healthcare plan. Those plans are designed for people who make around $75,000 a year or more. I’d have to look at the numbers, but 90% of our unit makes well below that. So these plans are unusable, basically. We have the health insurance but we can’t afford to use it sometimes. The next step up to the HMO is hundreds of dollars a month. So you have to make this choice and when we were negotiating, like Amanda said, I thought we could appeal to people’s better angels to share testimonials from our colleagues who couldn’t afford to get the healthcare that they needed. It fell on deaf ears.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, absolutely. Again, it’s one of the unfortunate aspects of this fight but the important thing to remember is that ultimately nobody’s going to come and save us. We’ve got to have each other’s back the way that you guys have each other’s back. So to round out this conversation, one of the things that I absolutely love about your guys’ effort is the timing of your strike with the Matisse effort and maximizing your leverage. So I’d like to speak a little bit on that and get both of your guys’ perspectives. What better two people to get perspectives from than somebody who helps to curate different events at the art museum? You can definitely speak to the importance of that, Amanda, and then having an educator, too, talking about the historical aspect of those pieces and why it is that that exhibit is so big for the art museum. So please, guys, break it down. And a brilliant move that you guys had there.

Amanda Bock:  I didn’t curate the Matisse show but if I did, I still would’ve walked out, for the record. So a show like that is big and it’s big because it involves a lot of art coming in from international and national museums on loan. So art has to get brought into the museum, it has to get checked over to make sure nothing happened to it during its travels, and it has to get installed on the wall or in a case or wherever. And all of that is union work. So that’s to start us off. And then, of course, with a show like that, there’s a big press preview and a lot of the people who get things ready for that are union workers. There are big events, and the event planners are union workers, the development officers are union workers, and the retail workers and the people who welcome people to the museum are union workers.

 An event like that, when it’s a huge show with lots of lenders and a big eye in the public with lots of advertising to let people know it’s coming, offered us an opportunity to gum up the works and slow down work that has a deadline that can’t be moved. Because at the end of all of the installation and the press preview, there’s always a big celebration of a big opening. It’s a private event, with lots of wealthy people, lots of donors, lots of artists, and trustees. And it’s a big, fancy event that you certainly wouldn’t want a seven or eight-foot-tall scabby outside, hordes of Philadelphians with noisemakers, and our siblings at DC 33 driving trash trucks around in circles.

So the biggest looming thing at the end of this three-week strike was that very important private opening which is conveniently when we finally reached a tentative agreement, was the night before that event was supposed to happen. So we created a situation where they had to bring in scabs if they wanted to get things done, where there were a lot of things that weren’t getting done. One of my managers said at one point when we ran into each other during the strike, that every week we were out on strike, we fell one month behind inside. That was really true because even beyond Matisse, you’re looking at what the next big show is and there’s a lot of work that wasn’t getting done for that, too.

Adam Rizzo:  Yeah, and I would add that, and Amanda knows more about planning exhibitions than I do because I’m not involved in that at all, but these shows are planned out years in advance. It’s an intensive process and if you gum up one of those wheels, it has a butterfly effect across the institution. That not only affects us but it could also potentially affect other museums that are putting on that show. It could also potentially harm relationships between lenders. I’m not the type of guy who has the money to own a Matisse but if I was sending my Matisse to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I wouldn’t want to send it across a picket line. So it brings up some of those issues, too.

The timing of the strike was essential. Without that pressure point, I don’t think they would’ve finally agreed to all of our demands, as Amanda said. I thought they would’ve come to it sooner, a lot sooner. But they kept maintaining that everything was fine inside during those three weeks, everything was moving ahead as scheduled. Meanwhile, the reality of it was that department heads and division heads were taking tickets at the front desks, were working the retail jobs, were doing all the jobs that folks in the unit do, were working coat check. That’s really valuable for them, they needed to experience that and I’m happy they did but that was unsustainable, clearly.

When the show finally opened and they said everything was fine, it was perfect, and this was their big post-pandemic blockbuster show, it wasn’t finished. There were some works that weren’t installed. When you go to a museum, there are usually interpretive labels that tell you a little bit about the artwork. That wasn’t installed. There were a lot of things that didn’t happen because we weren’t there to do them. We had a big impact on all of those things but the thing that they feared the most, which says a lot, is regarding their big party for the board of trustees being disrupted.

Throughout this process, I thought that all of the community pressure, all of the bad press the museum was getting, all of the people in the community who were canceling their memberships, folks who weren’t showing up, who were showing up for us to support us, I thought that the harm they were doing to the reputation of the museum was what was … I was surprised at how far they were willing to let that go. I was surprised because I care about the reputation of the museum but they were acting so poorly in public and without any self-awareness that it was disappointing to me and a lot of other folks. But when it came down to it, they wanted to have their party. They didn’t want us out there confronting the board of trustees, who ultimately are the ones who decide if we get what we want and what we deserve. We weren’t asking for that much. We were asking for enough money to live in this city, lower the cost of healthcare, and four weeks of paid parental leave. We had zero, as Amanda said before. It was really shocking to me that it went as far as it did.

Vince Quiles:  Touching back on something that I said at the beginning of this interview, when you consider Philadelphia, you think of the Eagles, you think of the Sixers, you think of the cheesesteak. You also think of Rocky running up those steps, you think of the historic importance that that museum has within this city. So to your point, it’s a drop in the bucket, the things that you guys are asking for. You’re not trying to bankrupt them, you’re trying to put yourself in the best position so that then you can show up to work and do the best job possible. That’s another important thing to remember in all this, is if you’re consistently concerned with, can I pay my bills? Can I make ends meet? That’s going to affect you at your job.

We can all think of times when, whether it was ourselves or a coworker that we cared about, someone we were close with when they had personal things going on and it’s obviously affecting them in the workplace. So again, we have to consider these things as well in these fights. But to your point, when you talk about how the board of trustees, all they cared about was their party. Because in the end, that’s the core of this issue ultimately, is there are people in the upper echelons of society that run the show that only care what each other thinks. They don’t care what we as workers think, they don’t care about the things that we go through. They’re basically like, chug along, do what you got to do. Hey, Amanda, go put some pieces of art together. Hey, Adam, go teach some things about art to some students.

They don’t understand, that by Amanda doing what she does, it allows somebody to walk in and to lose themselves for a little bit in the wonder of art. It allows children who see cool paintings, but don’t understand what they’re looking at, to be able to talk to someone like Adam and to be educated and to have their knowledge and their perspective expanded, which is really transformative for people at those ages.

So to clamp down and something you guys show well is that it’s about the workers looking out for each other; you guys gave a masterclass in that. Really, my hats off to you all, and the fight that you had, it’s absolutely commendable. It’s super wonderful. Ultimately, the chapters of this labor fight that we’re currently going through across this country, you guys have cemented that place and you have been able to help improve the lives of each other, but also help to set an example. I know as I was going through my organizing drive, I was looking a lot at what you guys were doing and seeing what was happening there and trying to learn from that. I can only imagine what others were.

So with that, I’d like to close out and ask you guys, how can we keep up with things that are going on at the art museum? How can we keep up with things that you guys are doing individually? Should there be any other struggles that you feel we should be looking at, anything going on underway? Whatever you want to plug.

Adam Rizzo:  There’s so much. What’s happening in labor right now is incredibly inspiring. Whether it’s at Starbucks or an art museum or at an Amazon distribution center or Home Depot. Workers across this country are realizing that they have more power together and that we can improve our lives if we work together. I’m watching right now what’s going on with the WGA strike, that’s an important fight and they’re going to win. I’ve been inspired by the actions that have happened at universities recently, whether it’s Rutgers or Temple. They’re voting at Penn as we speak, the residents and fellows at the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. So great. I’m so excited about that.

But I will say also in regards to our local, we were chartered as a local so that we could represent multiple cultural institutions within the city of Philadelphia. Since we won our election, the Penn Museum has joined our local, they won their election. And the Please Touch Museum very recently, two months ago, won their election and joined our local. They’re both negotiating their first contract. Penn is approaching two years of negotiating for their first contract. So they’re in a similar position as we were when we ended up going on strike and they’re hung up on the economic issues again. Penn is even bigger than an art museum like the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s like its own country in terms of the money that they take in and the economy of those places.

Amanda Bock:  It’s a top-five employer in the city of Philadelphia in terms of number of people.

Adam Rizzo:  Yeah, and they always say, we’re the best employer in Philadelphia. Come work for us. Meanwhile, there are folks who are working over at the Penn Museum, like was the case for us, who can’t afford to live in the city, who have to work two jobs to continue doing what they love and work at a place that they really care about. So I’m hopeful that Penn will come to their senses and negotiate with them on economics in a meaningful way. But we appreciate any support you can send their way to the Penn Museum workers. They are Penn Museum Workers United. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram and they also have a website.

Amanda Bock:  I’ll tack on that Please Touch Museum is the children’s museum in Philadelphia and one of the first children’s museums to unionize. They had a real wild card fight up to their election with some anti-union tactics that might be new to the playbook and were so out there that nothing stuck and they won their election by a huge margin. But they will be entering what will be a tough contract fight. So Please Touch Museum United is their full union name and they are also on social media.

I also want to give a nod to some unions that have had some longer fights because there is a real risk that something can fall off of view when it’s a longer strike. So the grad workers at the University of Michigan have had a really tough fight. They’ve had the cops called on them, there’s been an injunction in court that’s gotten kicked around, and they’re not asking for any more than the successful strike at Rutgers or the successful strike at Temple amongst their graduate workers. Any support that we can give to them would be welcomed.

Then in our home state, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has been on strike since we ended our strike in October of 2022 and have had a really hard time, have been replaced with a lot of scab workers. One of their picketers was assaulted by a scab worker and they have a really nice alternative newspaper that they’ve been writing in lieu of doing their own jobs which is a really great read. I’m a monthly donor to their strike fund to keep them going. So if you are looking for a strike fund to support and want to support some workers who have been on strike for many months, they’re a good union to turn to.

Adam Rizzo:  I would also add that we are so grateful to the folks of the city of Philadelphia and beyond: the museum community, and cultural workers all over the place who supported us through the strike, not only by bringing coffee and pizza and donuts, which I never want to have ever again for the rest of my life but by contributing to the strike fund because that was really what kept us afloat. We were able to pay people while they were striking and it wasn’t as much as folks were getting paid in their day jobs but it was enough to sustain folks through that very challenging time. So I encourage everyone if you’re able, to donate to strike funds and support workers. I know with inflation, money’s very tight these days but it goes a long way and we are so grateful for all that support.

Vince Quiles:  Awesome. Thank you, guys, so much for taking the time to explain your fight today. Thank you guys for paving the way and pioneering the way that you all did over at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I look forward to talking to you guys again in the future.

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Vince Quiles is the Lead Organizer at Home Depot Workers United.