The security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art have been holding out hope for improved working conditions for a long time. Thus far, they have they tried to communicate via the standard methods of written letters and phone calls, yet their requests remain unanswered. Finding themselves without much more recourse, they decided to translate their message into a language sympathetic to the ears of the museum leaders: art.
The security guards have come together to create a thirteen minute video addressed to Timothy Rub, the incoming Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), in the hopes that their voices, in this way, will finally break the silence.
On August 26, the film entitled "Welcoming Change: A Message To Timothy Rub," directed by David Stuart Randle from local media organization Media Mobilizing Project, will be released on the internet and will premier on screen at 4205 Chestnut St at 6:30 pm. The film will also be mailed to 100 local churches.
The objective of releasing this film is to prompt a network of PMA members and Philadelphia taxpayers to contact Mr. Rub and express their support for the guards' ambition to be recognized as a union. The guards have started their own independent labor union, the Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU), and have succeeded in signing up a majority of their coworkers on union recognition cards.
Their campaign has become part of the national dialogue in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that is currently being debated by Congress. At present, if a majority of workers sign union recognition cards, it is still the employers' decision whether or not to recognize the workers' union. Under EFCA, if a majority of the workers have signed union recognition cards, it would be their choice to hold an election regarding the formation of a union.
"We hope that Mr. Rub will recognize our union and work with us to improve the low-wages that we earn by granting us the sustainable wages we deserve," says Jennifer Collazo, a security guard and union organizer at the PMA.
The guards decided to form PSOU after reaching out to several labor unions to no avail. Unions are restricted by a little-known provision in the National Labor Relations Act, Section 9 (b) 3, which bars unions that organize workers other than security guards from calling for an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.
Union representatives point to a recent history of unfair labor practices by their employer, AlliedBarton, in an attempt to show why they need the contract holder (i.e. the PMA) to demand that no illegal activity take place during their organizing drive. They also want their employer to recognize the PSOU as the collective bargaining unit at their current majority.
The security guards earn between $15,000 and $20,000 per year. This figure is not only below the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a family of four ($22,050), it is possibly in violation of the city-mandated Prevailing Wage, a wage established for service workers employed at "city-related" properties.
"The law states that any institution that receives more than $100,000 from the city is bound by this law and has to pay a family-sustaining wage of $13.48 per hour for guards. The Museum received $4.92 million from the City of Philadelphia in 2008. They also are on city land and in a city building worth $171 million," says Fabricio M. Rodriguez, the Executive Director of Philadelphia Jobs with Justice, a local community group that has been working with the guards since 2005.
The film "Welcoming Change" will premier to the public at the headquarters of the Media Mobilizing Project, at 4205 Chestnut St. at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, August 26, 2009. The film will be followed by a roundtable discussion with security officers from the museum.