Adam Rizzo has worked at the Philadelphia Art Museum for eight years as one of the staff educators for the tens of thousands of grade school students who come to the museum every year.
He says he hasn't received a raise in three years and makes $50,000 a year.
Low and stagnant pay for about 190 staff members at the museum, ranging from retail workers and ticket vendors to curators, art handlers and educators, forced those workers to strike Monday, according to Rizzo, president of the museum workers' union, DC 47 Local 397.
"We can't afford to live in Philly with what we're getting paid," Rizzo said. "We're trying to make an adjustment here so the museum can hold onto its staff."
Get Philly local news, weather forecasts, sports and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Philadelphia newsletters.
He added that many of his union members are paid $15 an hour, and some salaried positions start at $30,000.
"When you think about that many positions at the museums require master's degrees, you're talking about people who are experts in their fields and come here with lots of student debt," Rizzo said.
The union is willing to picket outside the museum all week, he said, unless the museum's administration calls to ask them to come back to the table with a better offer in hourly wages and salaries.
A spokesman for the union on Friday said the museum's negotiators last made an offer that includes an 8.5% increase this year and an 11% increase to pay by 2024.
"We are disappointed that the union has chosen to strike, but we remain focused on reaching a fair and appropriate contract with the union," museum communications director Norman Keyes said in an email.
The strike comes as the art museum's new president and CEO, Sasha Suda, begins her tenure. The 41-year-old is the 14th person to lead the downtown institution.
Rizzo said he hopes the strike doesn't last long, but he and his colleagues were willing to stay out for as long as it takes to get "a living wage."
"Before the pandemic, we welcomed 70,000 school students every year," he said. "I hope I'm getting back to that. I'd like to be teaching kids later this week."