School of the Art Institute’s undecided faculty calls on museum to recognize new union

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Non-tenure track faculty members at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have asked the school’s management to voluntarily recognize their union.

A “great majority” of the faculty’s negotiating unit, which is made up of some 600 adjunct professors and teachers from the school, has signed union authorization cards, members of the faculty organizing committee said in a letter addressed to school president Elissa Tenny on Wednesday.

Adjunct professors and teachers from the school gathered in front of the museum late Wednesday afternoon, calling for job security, higher wages and health insurance for teachers, who are without teaching.

“We are adding our hard work and strong voices to an entire movement that is growing in this country,” said Elena Ailes, an assistant adjunct professor at the school who teaches sculpture and first-year foundation courses.

“We’re putting forward the idea that teaching is work, cultural work is work, art teachers and cultural workers are workers, and our work has value,” Ailes said.

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“There are so many of us that if we took one day off, this school wouldn’t function,” said Anjulie Rao, a teacher who teaches in the school’s architecture, interior design and objects design and art journalism department. “And yet they treat us like the most available employees they have. We are teacher performances.”

Employees at the Art Institute formed the city’s first major museum union when they voted to unite 142-44 in January. The museum’s school staff soon followed with 115-48 votes for the union. If the unestablished faculty succeeds in forming unions, it would constitute a third separate negotiating unit under the umbrella of the union.

If the school does not voluntarily recognize the union, the faculty will submit an election to the National Labor Relations Board. Employees would then need a simple majority of votes to join a union.

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In a statement, SAIC communications director Bree Witt said unionization was a decision the faculty will make “individually and collectively.”

“If a union vote is taken, we look forward to working with the negotiating team,” Witt said.

ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, 10th, spoke Wednesday in support of the faculty union, as well as state representative Delia Ramirez, who is running for Congress.

“We know this school has a world-class reputation, and it’s because of all of you here,” Ramirez said. “But the administration doesn’t recognize everything you do.”

SAIC non-tenure track faculty members first announced their intention to unite in May. Nearly 200 adjuncts and teachers at the school signed an open letter announcing the union action and calling their working conditions “unbearable.” The school’s two-tier system of fees and benefits creates a “permanent underclass of contingent faculties,” they wrote.

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In May, school president Tenny and provost Martin Berger said in an email to the part-time faculty that they “didn’t believe unionization is in the best interests of the faculty or the school,” but that they would negotiate with a union if one were voted on. . .

If the non-tenure-track faculty succeeds in unionizing, it will be more than double the size of the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United, which currently represents some 500 employees. Union membership includes curators, store clerks, librarians and custodians of the museum and academic advisors, administrative assistants and mailroom workers at the school.

The workers would be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the museum and school union workers, along with other government employees across the country, including at the Chicago Public Library. In recent years, employees of museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, have also joined AFSCME.

After gathering on the steps of the Art Institute on Wednesday, faculty members and supporters marched to the Sharp Building, a campus building where they said President Tenny was hosting a school event.

‘What’s outrageous? Poor people,’ they shouted outside the building.

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