Non-tenured faculty members at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have asked the school leadership to voluntarily recognize their union.
A “vast majority” of the college’s bargaining unit, comprising some 600 adjunct professors and faculty at the school, have signed union authorization cards, members of the college’s organizing committee said Wednesday in a letter to the president. from school, Elissa Tenny.
Adjunct professors and lecturers from the school demonstrated outside the museum Wednesday afternoon, calling for job security, higher wages and health insurance for the lecturers, who teach without it.
“We’re adding our hard work and strong voices to an entire movement that’s growing across the country,” said Elena Ailes, an assistant adjunct professor at the school who teaches sculpture and freshman core courses.
“We’re putting forward the notion that teaching is work, cultural work is work, arts educators and cultural workers are workers, and our work has value,” Ailes said.
“There are so many of us that if we took a day off, this school wouldn’t work,” said Anjulie Rao, a professor who teaches in the school’s department of architecture, interior architecture and designed objects, and arts journalism. “And yet they treat us like the most disposable employees they have. We are temporary teacher workers.”
Art Institute staff members formed the city’s first major museum union when they voted to unionize 142-44 in January. The museum school staff soon followed up with a 115-48 vote for the union. If the non-tenured faculty manages to unionize, it would form a third separate bargaining unit under the union umbrella.
If the school does not voluntarily recognize the union, the faculty will petition the National Labor Relations Board for an election. Workers would then need a simple majority vote to unionize.
In a statement, SAIC communications director Bree Witt said organizing was a decision the faculty would make “individually and collectively.”
“If a union is voted for, we look forward to working with the bargaining team,” Witt said.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, 10th, spoke in support of the teachers’ union on Wednesday, as did state Rep. Delia Ramirez, who is running for Congress.
“We know that this school has a world-class reputation, and that’s thanks to all of you here,” Ramírez said. “But the administration doesn’t recognize everything you do.”
Non-tenured faculty members at SAIC first announced their intention to unionize in May. Nearly 200 assistants and teachers at the school signed an open letter announcing the union drive, calling their working conditions “intolerable.” The school’s two-tier compensation and benefits system creates a “permanent underclass of contingent teachers”, they wrote.
In May, the school’s president, Tenny, and principal Martin Berger said in an email to part-time teachers that they “didn’t think unionization was in the best interest of the teachers or the school,” but that they would negotiate with a union if voted in favour. .
If the nontenured faculty manages to form a union, it will more than double the size of the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United, which currently represents about 500 workers. Union membership includes curators, store clerks, librarians, and museum custodians and academic advisers, administrative assistants, and school mailroom employees.
The workers would be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents unionized museum and school workers along with other public service workers across the country, including the Chicago Public Library. In recent years, museum employees such as the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have also unionized with AFSCME.
After demonstrating on the steps of the Art Institute on Wednesday, faculty members and supporters marched to the Sharp Building, a building on campus where they said President Tenny was hosting a school event.
“What is scandalous? Poverty wages,” they chanted outside the building.