Sunday, July 19, 2009

MUSEUM RAKES IN STIMULUS DOLLARS AND CUTS WAGES

Workers Wonder If Rub Will Heal Division

Philadelphia, PA – The Philadelphia Museum of Art is apparently not immune from the recession. Like other leading institutions of the arts, the museum has seen some of its income fall sharply. In February, management announced that in order to close an expected $1.7 million budget deficit the museum would need to lay off 15 staff, raise ticket prices by $2 to $6 each, and reduce “Free Sundays” to only once a month. The cruelest cut was announced months later, in June, when museum guards earning between $16,000 and $20,000 a year learned they would not receive their promised $0.25 an hour raise.

“I couldn’t believe it – they were taking our raise,” said a security guard with contractor Allied Barton. “Our raise is a drop in the bucket to the museum.”

He may be right. While some contributions are down, it appears that others are up. Way up. Besides a grant from PNC Bank, the museum is in line for a Federal Community Development block grant of $80 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for improvements to a loading dock area. When the City of Philadelphia cut $500,000 from its contribution to the museum, philanthropist and board chairman Gerry Lenfest pledged to match up to $25 million in donations. Meanwhile, the security officers who safeguard the museum’s treasures have yet to see their quarter an hour raise promised to them over a year ago, amounting to an average $520 so far for a full timer.

The security officers have long been organizing for union representation. They hope that by forming an independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union, they will be able to bargain for decent wages, paid sick days and basic health benefits.

“It’s not fair. We have big responsibilities,” says Jennifer, a union activist and a museum guard. “We take care of the collections and the patrons, but the museum can’t even give us our [small] raise.”

So far museum management has ignored the guards’ requests for a dialogue. The appointment of Timothy Rub as museum director beginning September raised the possibility of a new approach to the guards’ campaign. A recent delegation of security officers, along with labor, community and student leaders organized by Philadelphia Jobs with Justice, attempted to hand deliver a letter welcoming Mr. Rub and asking for a meeting. Local museum management declined to accept the letter, but apparently Mr. Rub’s staff were more accepting when Jobs with Justice brought a copy of the letter to his current office at the Cleveland Museum.

Union activists have reached out to the art museum’s new leader, hoping for a sign of a new professionalism from management. A decent first step would be for Mr. Rub to restore the lost wages.

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