New Round of Layoffs Hit U.S. Museums; Philadelphia Museum of Art Workers Vote to Unionize

  • August 06, 2020 15:52

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Philadelphia Museum of Art
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After months of coronavirus impacts have battered museums' finances, art institutions across the U.S. have announced a fresh round of large-scale layoffs this week. Earlier layoffs and furloughs began in late March and April, and hit again in June resulting in steep job losses at American museums.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) is laying off 85 employees and an additional 42 have accepted voluntary separation agreements, reducing the number of employees over 23%, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We will be forced to operate in a very different way than in the past in order to protect our staff as well as our visitors,” wrote director and CEO Timothy Rub in a Tuesday email to staff. 

Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, Calif. 
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On Thursday, PMA workers voted to unionize, with an 89% majority of votes in favor. The PMA Union will be affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 47 (AFSCME DC 47), becoming one of the largest unionized museum workforces in the country, and it will be wall-to-wall, meaning staff who work more than four hours per week at the museum will be included. The union victory came after the layoffs, but was initiated months ago over issues of pay, compensation and benefits, as well as transparency and a series of workplace harassment controversies, reports Hyperallergic.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts said Friday that it has eliminated 20 staff positions.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art laid off 79 employees, furloughed an additional 181 workers, and another 93 workers accepted voluntary retirement, reports ARTnews. The museum has let go 20% of its approximately 2,000 workers since April, citing a $150 million deficit.

Days before the Met's announcement of layoffs, the MMA Collective Action Working Group — a group of current Met employees — sent a letter to museum administrators demanding greater transparency and protection for workers, reports Hyperallergic.

In California, the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens is laying off eight employees, including the chief curator of European art, Catherine Hess. Another four workers, across departments, will be furloughed, reports the LA Times.

Delaware's Winterthur, reports The News Journal, has eliminated 27 positions in museum engagement, facilities services and visitor engagement divisions as well as its public safety department.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston announced last Friday that it was terminating employment for 57 employees and another 56 staff members took voluntary early retirement. While state guidelines have allowed Massachusetts museums to reopen since July 6, the MFA has yet to open its doors to visitors. 

Reports wbur, the MFA had projected a shortfall of between $12 and $14 million by June 30 without revenue from museum admissions, the restaurant, cafe, parking and touring exhibitions.

A recent survey by the AAM, using responses taken from 760 U.S. museum directors, noted 33 percent were "not confident" that their museum could survive without additional financial relief and 16 percent were at "significant risk of permanent closure." 


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