Friday, July 31, 2009

Rendell fired us Alliedbarton rehired us

The current administration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been indifferent to our calls for justice (except for granting our folks up to three days of paid sick leave in Sept 2008). I've dealt with a lot of institutions in our city who are short changing workers and I can say, without a doubt, that all of them have acted more reasonably. However, if you look back at the history of the guards at the museum, it becomes more clear where they have gotten this attitude from.

Our city's last major budget crisis occurred in 1992. Mayor Ed Rendell had just won his election and started his first days in office with a city that was, much like today, in deep fiscal trouble.

He was fighting to take away a lot from the city's municipal workers. The unions fought hard and even went on strike. Mayor Rendell was able to get many of the concessions that he wanted. The unions lost much and to this day, the city union leaders vow, "never again."

Perhaps the cruelest cut, though, was the privatization of hundreds of jobs, including the security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These officers were represented by AFSCME Local 1637, District Council 33. They made as much as $14/hour and had top-shelf benefits. Mayor Rendell turned those family sustaining jobs into poverty wage jobs over night.

In the first year we privatized 15 different functions, and we have 15 more on the drawing board now. With those 30 we will save about $34 million a year. Privatization has not proven nearly as hard to do as everyone expected. And it is more than just a money-saver: in almost every case we are delivering a better product to the citizens of Philadelphia.

Today, more than 15 years later, their wages still haven't caught up to previous levels. The most the guards can make is $10.03 per hour. This puts many of the guards below the federal poverty line for a family of four, earning less than $20,000 per year. With the backing of the then Mayor Ed Rendell, is it any wonder that the museum feels that they can disregard the well-being of these workers with impunity?

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