On November 20 Philadelphia’s new “Safer at Home” COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, prompting cultural institutions across the city to once again shut down. Two days before the shutdown started, the Philadelphia Museum of Art furloughed fifty-seven employees.
According to Hyperallergic, PMA’s director Timothy Rub announced the furloughs to staff in an email on November 18. The furlough will mostly effect frontline workers in the museum’s visitor services department, as well as preparators, and curatorial staff in charge of archives. Many of those furloughed make less than fifteen dollars an hour. Rub also announced that staff making over $100,000 a year will be taking pay cuts between ten and twenty percent.
In a tweet, the PMA Union said that the furlough shifts the financial burden of the shutdown onto the lowest paid workers. “The ‘savings’ from these six weeks of lost pay likely amount to a drop in the bucket for @philamuseum and its Trustees, but are vital to the workers who now face an even harder holiday season and winter,” the union said. According to PMA Union, administration had told employees that the museum still had plenty of money for construction and exhibitions less to a month prior to the shut down.
“I wish that it could be otherwise, but hope you will understand that these steps have been taken to ensure that the museum’s ability to serve our community is not imperiled and that we will be able to move forward again with confidence as soon as time and circumstance permit,” director Rub wrote in the November 18th email.
These cuts follow two earlier rounds of lay offs in June and August. In June, the museum reduced its staff by twenty percent. Then, in August, PMA laid off 85 employees, while another forty-two workers accepted voluntary separation agreements.