UArts rally for union rights and benefits

Philadelphia

Philadelphia University of the Arts workers, students and community members rallied April 27 in solidarity with staff seeking to unionize and with faculty still bargaining for their first contract after a successful union drive. Speakers at the rally of over 40 people included UArts faculty and staff union leaders, plus Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO. 

Rally outside Philadelphia UArts, April 27.Credit: Joe Piette

In November 2020 full-time and part-time faculty at University of the Arts voted with a historic 99% yes vote to unionize with United Academics of Philadelphia, a local of the American Federation of Teachers. 

Faculty have been bargaining with the university and their Morgan Lewis lawyer for over a year, with only the most basic items agreed upon. Morgan Lewis is an antilabor law firm, notorious for representing Amazon and many other corporations opposing the rights of workers to unionize.

Over 80% of UArts faculty are part-time with no benefits, hired one semester at a time. UArts faculty are paid significantly less than other comparable institutions, and struggle with ever-increasing workloads. UArts faculty want to win pay raises that bring pay for all faculty to levels on par with comparable institutions, job security for part-time faculty, faculty voting seats on the Board of Trustees and input on hiring of deans and other leadership positions. 

Full-time and part-time staff are currently in the process of voting for union recognition as a separate bargaining unit of UAP. Staff from all academic and nonacademic departments are forming a union to address a historic lack of pay increases and to create a voice with the university administration amid increasing retention problems. Staff went public with their intention to unionize March 14, 2022, and their votes will be counted by the National Labor Relations Board May 16.

Faculty have been conducting open bargaining for the past year, with union members, as well as UArts students, alumni and parents, attending to observe and show support for the contract negotiations. 

The UArts Union filed five Unfair Labor Practice charges against the UArts Administration, resulting in restored wages for full-time faculty, a full set of data for their bargaining team and the recent rescinding of policy changes that UArts made with no faculty input.

UArts Crafts Alumna Ellen Littlefield centered the point of the rally in the UArts Union press release: “Faculty and staff must be treated fairly, and that includes paying a living wage and benefits. It’s inexcusable that UArts administration is stalling on negotiations with faculty. It’s disgraceful that such a prestigious university is so behind the times in understanding the needs of its professors.” (tinyurl.com/hhfz4cy4)

UArts is the latest arts university in the U.S. to join a union movement that has gained momentum over the last two years, including the California College of the Arts, Ohio State University’s Wexner Art Center and School of the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC).

Catie Rutledge, AIC’s coordinator of philanthropy, explained to The Art Newspaper: “At the end of the day, working in the arts or a nonprofit is still a job. You can’t eat prestige.” (tinyurl.com/bdew2tf3)

Joe Piette

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Joe Piette

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