Friday, March 6, 2009

In Philadelphia, the Underdog Always Wins

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of our cities proudest attractions. In many ways, it is the heart of our city. From the July 4th Welcome America festival to the Live 8 concert, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the face that Philadelphia shows the world when we want to shine.

Philadelphians show our pride by donating more than $6 million to the museum by way of city contributions, direct payments, subsidies, assistance and special breaks.

Our city has a long and proud working-class history. The museum is known as much for its world-class collections as it for the underdog, working-class champion, Rocky, who bounded up the steps in that iconic film. This love for our working roots has been celebrated in our city laws when our City Council adapted one of the most progressive Prevailing Wage Laws in the country.

Prevailing Wage Laws are worker protection laws that usually apply to sub-contractors who are building things for the city, state or federal government. These laws demand that the contractor pay a family sustaining wage with some decent benefits. Our city has taken this law a step further by applying it to building service workers too.

The Prevailing Wage Law is supposed to apply to building service workers such as security guards, door men and janitors among others, this includes workers who are sub-contracted, who work on any piece of city property. Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are city property. The law also states that it applies to all workers who work for beneficiaries of city money. The museum is undoubtedly a beneficiary of city money. The security guards at the museum do not earn anything near a prevailing wage. In fact, they all live below what our federal government considers the poverty line*.

Last Thursday, Jobs with Justice activists made ourselves unwanted guests at the VIP party for the opening of the Cezzane exhibit. Though our rally was small, museum leaders completely changed their plans to prevent their large donors from learning about their workers rights violations.

Having been fortunate enough to have been at opening of the Frida exhibit, I know that most of the guests arrive at the west entrance of the building. This door is most convenient to the parking lots. Not for Cezzane, though. No, the museum brought the merry makers in ON A BUS and shepherded them in through the side door near the café!

The museum should have to hide from us or our calls for justice, however, our requests to meet and resolve our issues, to negotiate a solution that we can all live with, have been denied over and over again since December of 2007. We are left to conduct our one-way communications through bullhorn.

The museum and our city government are stealing at least 40% of the wages that ALL of the security guards on the property should be earning. The law states further that the city government can withhold payments if the problem is not corrected and that the city can even go so far as to pay the workers directly. Jobs with Justice is dedicated to fighting to make sure that the museum and our city government live up to their obligations and their word.

You can help out to by filling out our online petition here…

Also, be sure to check out this great video of our protest that was made by the good folks at the Media Mobilizing Project…

Read the Philadelphia Prevailing Wage Law for yourself here…

*Based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a family of three

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