From Amazon warehouses to the galleries of major cultural institutions, unionization has seemingly undergone a sort of revitalization during the pandemic.
The National Labor Relations Board reported a 57% increase in union election petitions between July 2021 and June 2022. Regardless of whether those votes are successful, the number points to the desire workers feel to assert power in their workplaces.
And at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — the teaching arm of the Art Institute — full-time faculty voted to unionize in January. Staff at the museum did as well. It’s been followed by a push by lecturers and non-tenure-track professors to work toward the same goal.
Elena Ailes — assistant professor, adjunct in Contemporary Practices at SAIC and a member of the SAIC Faculty organizing committee — drops by The Best of Our Knowledge to explain the process they’ve undertaken, as well as what led to the unionization push.
“When the pandemic began, it became very clear the priority was nowhere near about protecting staff and giving us a living wage to survive,” Eala O’Sé, an AIC employee told Chicago-based journalist Mark Guarino.
When full-time instructors and museum staff organized earlier in 2022, assistant curator Erica Warren saw it as a “watershed moment.”
The uptick in unions is part of a pretty well-documented trend of culture workers organizing.
In a June story from Jacobin, a labor organizer said that “Three-quarters of all [SAIC] faculty are non-tenure-track.”
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