Rally of non-permanent teachers of the School of the Institute of Art in favor of union membership. “The current situation is completely unsustainable.” – Chicago Tribune

Non-tenured faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are considering organizing with the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United, the union representing staff at the Michigan Avenue museum and its school.

At a rally on the steps of the Art Institute on Tuesday afternoon, professors called on their colleagues to join them in signing union permission cards, the first step towards filing for union representation.

“United, we negotiate,” they chanted. “Divided, we beg.

In an open letter on Tuesday announcing their intention to unionize, nearly 200 adjunct teachers and lecturers at the school called their working conditions ‘intolerable’ and protested a two-tier pay and benefits system. levels which they claimed created a “permanent underclass of contingent professors”.

“I love my job so much,” said Sid Branca, an assistant assistant professor in the school’s film, video, new media and animation department, at Tuesday’s rally. “And I continue to do that without the proper resources because I think it’s important.”

“The current situation is totally unsustainable,” said Branca, who signed a card in favor of joining the union. “Teachers are exploited and exhausted. And we always do our best because we care. But it doesn’t have to be like that. »

“We are here because we believe in the value of arts education. We take our roles as educators as seriously as we take our lives,” said Kristi McGuire, who has taught at the school since 2007.

In January, Art Institute workers voted 142 to 44 to form the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United, the city’s first major museum union. Staff at the Art Institute of Chicago school voted 115 to 48 in favor of the union in a separate ballot.

If a majority of about 600 non-tenured professors win a vote to join the union, they will more than double its current membership. The union now represents around 500 workers, including curators, retail workers, custodians and librarians at the museum, as well as educational advisers, administrative assistants and mailroom workers at the school.

The faculty would form the union’s third bargaining unit, separate from the existing bargaining units for museum and school staff. Once they have collected enough cards showing their support for a union, they can ask the school for voluntary recognition or request a formal vote before the National Labor Relations Board.

The union did not share the number of non-tenured teachers who had signed union cards on Tuesday.

According to the letter published on Tuesday, non-tenured professors make up more than three-quarters of the school’s teaching staff, but do not enjoy comparable pay or benefits despite carrying similar workloads to tenured professors.

The school’s lecturers and adjuncts are paid per class, with lecturers earning $5,769 per three-hour class and adjunct teachers earning between $6,800 and $8,769 per class this school year, according to Anders Lindall, gatekeeper. word of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the union representing museum and school workers.

Lindall cited a 2021 compensation recommendation from the Modern Language Association, a professional association for language and literature scholars, which recommended minimum compensation of at least $11,500 for a three-hour semester course.

The teachers of the school do not benefit from health insurance. On Tuesday, teachers raised concerns about the exclusion of teachers from within-school promotions and, therefore, benefits.

Danny Floyd, a lecturer in the Visual and Critical Studies program, has taught at the school for eight years. “There’s no upward mobility and no chance of getting health insurance,” Floyd said.

He said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, part-time faculty contracts had been “emptied”. Part-time contracts previously guaranteed professors a certain number of lessons per year based on rank, he said, but those guarantees have been removed.

Bree Witt, the school’s communications director, confirmed that the school has suspended promotions from lecturer to assistant this academic year due to “the significant financial impact of the pandemic,” but said she is expected to resume next academic year, which begins in July.

Witt also confirmed that part-time faculty were only guaranteed one class last year, citing a drop in enrollment. Witt said “many” professors continued to teach their regular course loads despite the reduction in guaranteed classes.

“We have spoken with elected representatives of part-time faculty to come to an agreement on how we can reinstate course guarantees for as many faculty as possible with our even lower number of available courses,” Witt said.

In an email sent Tuesday to part-time teachers, school president Elissa Tenny and provost Martin Berger said they “did not believe unionization was in the best interest of the teachers or the school. “.

“It is a choice that part-time faculty will make individually and collectively,” the email read. “If a union is elected, we look forward to working with the bargaining team on employment issues.”

Art Institute of Chicago Workers United is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents public service workers nationally. The union represents museum and library workers across the country, including at the Chicago Public Library.

The academic support staff and museum workers bargaining units met with museum management for their first bargaining session last week, according to Lindall.

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