September 22, 2022

Art Institute adjuncts demand voluntary union recognition

Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU, the AFSCME local union representing employees of the museum and its affiliated college) announced on Sept. 21 that a powerful majority of the nearly 700 adjunct professors and lecturers at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) have signed union cards and are asking school administration to recognize their union.

Joined by Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski Garza and state Rep. Delia Ramirez in the shadows of the Art Institute’s iconic lion statues, SAIC faculty and supporters rallied to celebrate their momentum.

“Today we are asking that upper administration recognize our union and work with us to help make this profession better than how we found it, to signal to all of higher education that they value their non-tenure-track faculty,” said Annie Kielman, a lecturer at the school.

Many SAIC adjuncts and lecturers work full-time hours for part-time pay. The world-class institution, where tuition exceeds $70,000 per year, does not provide lecturers with health insurance and other benefits. Job security for non-tenure-track faculty is nearly nonexistent.

“This is about making a way for our students, who will follow in our footsteps as the working and teaching artists of tomorrow,” adjunct Elena Ailes said. “They do not need to live the same experience—of debt, of low pay, of expected but uncompensated labor, of working with no access to benefits and reasonable path to growth or promotion—that everyone here has had to endure.”

Staff at SAIC and the museum formed AICWU and officially joined AFSCME earlier this year. The adjuncts and lecturers would be the latest to join their ranks.

AICWU members are giving SAIC upper administration until Sept. 27 to respond to their demand for voluntary recognition. If they refuse, faculty will file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

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