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School of the Institute of the Arts rally faculty in support of union membership. “The current situation is absolutely unbearable.” – Chicago Tribune

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Nonprofessional teachers at the Chicago Institute of the Arts School are organized with the Chicago Workers ’Union Institute of the Arts, a union that represents staff at both the Michigan Avenue Museum and its school.

At a rally on the steps of the Institute of Arts on Tuesday afternoon, teachers encouraged their colleagues to join them in signing union permission cards, which was the first step towards applying for union representation.

“United we trade,” they chanted. “Divided we ask.”

In an open letter Tuesday announcing their intention to join the union, nearly 200 adjunct professors and teachers at the school called their working conditions “unbearable” and protested against the two-tier system of compensation and benefits, which they said , create a “permanent lower class of teachers.”

“I really love my job,” said Sid Branco, an associate professor of film, video, new media and animation at the school, during a rally Tuesday. “And I keep doing it without the right resources because I think it’s important.”

“The current situation is completely unstable,” said Branko, who signed the card for joining the union. “Teachers are being exploited and they have been burned. And we’re still doing our best because we don’t care. But this should not be the case. “

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

In January Employees of the Institute of Arts voted 142 against 44 create the Chicago Workers United Institute of the Arts, the city’s first major museum union. Staff at the Chicago Institute of the Arts School voted 115 against 48 for the union by separate vote.

If a majority of about 600 out-of-office teachers win the vote to join the union, they will more than double its current membership. The union now represents about 500 workers, including curators, retailers, custodians and librarians at the museum, as well as research advisers, administrative assistants and postal workers at the school.

The teaching staff forms the third negotiating unit of the union, separate from the existing negotiating units for museum and school staff. Once they have collected enough cards showing union support, they can ask the school for voluntary recognition or go to a formal vote before the National Labor Council.

The union did not share the number of full-time teachers who signed union tickets as of Tuesday.

According to a letter released Tuesday, non-eligible teachers make up more than three-quarters of the school’s teaching staff but do not receive comparable compensation or benefits despite performing a similar burden on full-time professors.

Teachers and adjuncts at the school are paid on a per-year basis, with teachers earning $ 5,769 for a three-hour course and adjunct professors earning between $ 6,800 and $ 8,769 per course this school year, according to Anders Lindahl, a spokeswoman for American Council of the Federation of State, District and Municipal Employees 31, a union representing museum and school workers.

Lindahl cites a 2021 compensation recommendation from the Modern Language Association, a professional association of language and literature experts, which recommends a minimum compensation of at least $ 11,500 for a three-hour semester.

Teachers at the school do not receive health insurance. On Tuesday, teachers expressed concern that teachers were barred from promotion at the school and thus from benefits.

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

He said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, contracts for part-time teachers were “destroyed”. According to him, part-time contracts guaranteed teachers a certain number of courses per year depending on the title, but these guarantees were taken away.

Brie Witt, the school’s director of communications, confirmed that the school had suspended in-service teacher training until the end of this school year due to the “significant financial impact of the pandemic,” but said they are expected to resume next school year, which begins in July.

Witt also confirmed that last year part-time teachers were guaranteed only one course, citing falling enrollment. Witt said “many” faculty continue to teach their regular workloads despite cuts to guaranteed courses.

“We spoke with selected representatives of part-time teachers to agree on how we can renew course guarantees for as many teachers as possible with our even fewer courses available,” Witt said.

In an e-mail sent to part-time teachers on Tuesday, school president Alice Tenny and vice-rector Martin Berger said they “do not believe union membership is in the interests of teachers or the school.”

“This is a choice that the part-time faculty will make individually and collectively,” the e-mail said. “If they vote for the union, we look forward to working with the negotiating team on employment.”

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

According to Lindale, last week the negotiating departments for school support staff and museum staff met with the museum’s management at its first negotiating session.

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