Arts and Design

Staff, faculty and students at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts hold rally amid union vote and negotiations

On 27 April staff, faculty, and students held a rally at the University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia in an effort to gain momentum for unionising efforts at the school. The rally drew a crowd of about 40 people, including some alumni, looking to draw attention to their causes––for both the staff who want to unionise and the faculty union who are still bargaining for their first contract after a successful union drive.

Nick Embree, a member of the faculty bargaining committee and an associate professor in theatre design and film design, described the  mood of the rally as “pretty positive.” He added, “The main message of the rally was that we would like to make more and faster progress negotiating the union agreement with the administration. Negotiations have now been in process for over a year. It would be great if we could work out the agreement for the faculty union before the start of the fall semester.”

“The faculty and staff and students who attended were full of hope for the future, despite what has been a slow negotiation process thus far,” Embree said. “This community is realising how united we are and feeling the strength of standing together as dedicated artists who love this school.”

Faculty at the university unionised in November of 2020 with an overwhelming 99% voting in favour of forming a union. The faculty union is part of the United Academics of Philadelphia (UAP), a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. However, the university refused to voluntarily recognise the union, resulting in a National Labor Relations Board vote. The final tally was 252 votes in favour of UAP representation to two against.

“​We remain committed to good-faith negotiations with the faculty union,” a UArts spokesperson told The Art Newspaper. “Continued in-person bargaining team sessions are yielding productive progress, and we are working together towards a contract reflecting mutual compromise.”

UArts is the latest art university to join a nationwide union movement that has gained momentum over the last two years. Earlier this month, faculty at the California College of the Arts successfully negotiated their second contract. In March staff at Ohio State University’s Wexner Art Center announced their intentions to unionise. And in January staff and faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago voted to unionise.

Members of the University of the Arts community hold a rally on 27 April Photo by John Flak

Staff members at UArts announced their intentions to form a union on 14 March. They are in the midst of holding elections and their votes will be counted by the National Labor Relations Board on 16 May. To date about 120 part-time and full-time members of the UArts staff have signed union authorisation and membership cards. If their votes go through next month in support of the union, they will also become a part of UAP.

“We are awaiting the results of the staff union voting process, per the procedures and timeline set by the National Labor Relations Board,” a UArts spokesperson told The Art Newspaper. “We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our staff and encourage every individual to vote.”

The issues motivating the school’s staff and faculty to unionise centre around pay and job security. Roughly 80% of faculty at UArts are part-time and currently have no benefits. Often they are hired on a semester-to-semester basis. Faculty are currently in negotiations with administration at the college to secure higher wages so that they are similar to other institutions, as well as job security for part-time faculty, voting seats on the school’s board of trustees and more input when it comes to the hiring of key positions such as deans and other leadership roles.

“We would like the administration to accept that a slow negotiating process will not change this overwhelming faculty support,” Embree said. “From the faculty side, we have worked hard on the union agreement and we would like the administration to engage more fully.”


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