The Security Guards at the Art Museum are demanding recognition for their union and an end to poverty wages. Here is their new video presenting their campaign to the incoming CEO of the museum, Timothy Rub:
The guards are also holding a rally next Sunday to welcome Mr. Rub, check it out! Also see below for more information on the campaign from a recent article in Philadelphia Weekly. [alex]
Welcoming Party for Timothy Rub
2 pm, Sunday, September 6, 2009
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, front “Rocky” steps
Join the Philadelphia Security Officers Union and Philly Jobs with Justice as they hold a — “welcoming party” — for incoming museum CEO, Timothy Rub.
Security Guards at the museum earn less than $20,000 per year, below the federal poverty line.
The Philadelphia Security Officers Union supports the Employee Free Choice Act.
We have signed up a majority of the security officers at the Philadelphia Museum on union representation cards.
If the Employee Free Choice Act was law right now, we would already be a union.
March with the Philadelphia Security Officers Union in support of card check and the Employee Free Choice Act
2:00 pm—3:30 pm,
come early and take advantage of the free day at the museum
Featuring NYC’s Rude Mechanical Orchestra! It’s a party!
Museum guards ask new director to hear them out.
On April 19, Jennifer Collazo woke up with a $2,882.47 hospital bill. The 33-year-old Army veteran is a Philadelphia Museum of Art security guard employed by the private contractor AlliedBarton. Collazo pays into the medical insurance offered by her employer, but when she came down with severe neck and back pain on the job, she discovered that her health benefits didn’t even cover things like the ambulance ride.
Paltry medical coverage combined with low wages has driven Collazo and other museum guards to organize the Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU). While the museum and AlliedBarton have rebuffed them in the past, guards hope that the institution’s incoming director, Timothy Rub, will be open to dialogue when he takes charge early next month. He succeeds long-time director Anne d’Harnoncourt, who died last year.
The guards say they want Rub to prod AlliedBarton to give them a pay raise and recognize their union.
Museum guards earn approximately $19,257.60 a year before taxes, which breaks down to $10.03 per hour. At that wage, many say they cannot afford to pay for AlliedBarton’s health care plan. One long-time guard says she’s forced to rely on the city’s public health clinics. Another guard says her children are covered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The security team wants wages increased to $13.48 per hour, an amount that is equal to the occupation’s federally determined prevailing wage.
“We are not getting paid for the work we’re doing,” says Collazo. “All we’re asking for is a small piece of the pie. We just want to talk to Rub and the current [interim] director and have a dialogue.”
Museum staff declined to reveal Rub’s salary, but his predecessor made a base salary of $326,397 according to the Inquirer. The Museum declined a request to interview Rub for this article.
On August 6, labor rights group Jobs with Justice filed a complaint with the City of Philadelphia’s Labor and Standards Division, alleging that AlliedBarton’s wages are not only low, but illegal. Jobs with Justice helped organize the Philadelphia Officers and Workers Rising (POWR) campaign.
The complaint charges that the museum is violating the city’s prevailing wage law, which sets standard pay for jobs receiving city funds. The Art Museum received $2.4 million from the city in 2009 and is supposed to receive $2.3 million in 2010. A representative of the Mayor’s office declined to comment on the complaint, since it’s currently being reviewed by the Law Department.
“It’s a choice between paying your bills and eating,” says Collazo. “It’s a shame for anyone to have to make that choice. And I feel even worse for people who have kids.”
Collazo has been working for AlliedBarton since 2004, about two years after she returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. She hoped that the experience she picked up working in a warehouse and managing inventory during her seven-year stint in the Army would land her a decent job once she returned home. But in today’s ever weakening job market, a low-wage service job is the best she could find.
According to Collazo and other guards, shifts can be long and tedious, with workers getting just one paid 15-minute break and an unpaid 30-minute lunch. And according to some guards interviewed for this story, they were denied a promised 25 cent raise in July.
Cecilia Lynch, 52, contends that the raise wasn’t promised, but expected, as guards had received cost of living raises of at least 28 cents in years past. Lynch, who has worked as a museum guard for nine years says, “$13.48 is not a lot to ask. Then maybe I could afford their health care.”
AlliedBarton spokesman Larry Rubin denied that workers were ever promised a raise. “She hates her job, doesn’t she?” he says, referring to Collazo. “In my opinion, she seems to have been mistaken with regards to the facts.”
The Art Museum referred questions regarding security guards to AlliedBarton, saying only, “It is our understanding that their compensation package is competitive.”
The guards have been in a labor no-mans-land of sorts since 2006, when the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) stopped organizing Philly officers as part of a broader (and controversial) deal with AlliedBarton.
The firm’s guards had been organizing at sites around Philadelphia since 2005, including at universities like Drexel, Penn and Temple. The deal, by which the company pledged to stay neutral during union organizing drives if SEIU dropped the Philly campaign, angered many labor advocates.
But the POWR campaign and Jobs with Justice have continued the campaign, fighting to create the homegrown PSOU. They say that a majority of museum guards have signed cards supporting the union.
The unionization drive is now intensifying in the lead up to Rub’s arrival. In June, it was announced that 57-year-old Rub, decamping from the Cleveland Museum of Art, where he served as director for three years, would replace d’Harnoncourt. The POWR campaign says that d’Harnoncourt wasn’t receptive to their demands. Guards did win additional paid-sick days after her death—one for every year employed, up to a maximum of three per year.
But the Museum may be heading into fiscally choppy waters. In February, the institution took a seven percent budget cut and laid off 16 employees. And in June, admission to the museum was raised by $2, to $16. In addition, there may be potential elimination of city funding if Mayor Nutter’s Plan C goes into effect. If Harrisburg refuses the city’s requests for a sales tax increase and changes in public employee pension payments, the mayor is predicting 3,000 layoffs and incredibly deep cuts across the board.
Financial troubles or not, the POWR campaign contends that the Museum already pays AlliedBarton enough to boost wages. The guards hope to get that message across during a series of events planned around Rub’s installation, including a big rally in front of the museum on September 6.
Activists see Rub’s arrival as an opportunity for the museum to make a clean break with its past. After all, guards at the Cleveland Museum are union. Collazo says that she’s cautiously optimistic about their odds.
“I’m 50-50. Right now we have a majority [of worker support], but we want to have a bigger one.”
It seems unlikely that Museum trustees hired Rub with expectations that he will improve labor relations. Nonetheless, the large number of public (and swanky) events offer activists the perfect opportunity for high-profile mischief—enough disrupted cocktail parties will certainly have Rub and the Museum’s big donors calling for security.