Faculty members at the University of the Arts, who are mostly adjuncts without access to health-care benefits or job security, have voted to unionize with United Academics of Philadelphia (UAP).
The vote was 255-2.
About 350 instructors were eligible to vote in the election, conducted by mail and administered by the National Labor Relations Board, UAP said. The size of the bargaining unit is still to be determined between the union and the school.
UArts did not immediately respond to a request for comment but in a statement, president David Yager previously said: “We trust our faculty as thoughtful scholars and creatives, and I support the faculty’s ability to do thorough research and make a quality decision about what they want for their future.”
On Labor Day, the instructors announced their intent to organize with UAP, a union formed in 2014 to fight for workers’ rights in higher education, especially among adjuncts, the gig workers of colleges and universities.
Imani Roach, who teaches humanities classes with a focus on Black art, said she wanted to join a union so that she could fight for stronger protections that would allow her to serve her students better.
Roach, 37, said she had an oral agreement with her department chairs that generally ensured that she would be called back each semester to teach a few classes. But not every instructor has that setup, she said, and there are other attributes the job lacks.
“I have relative security,” she said, “but I still don’t have competitive pay, and I still don’t have access to health insurance.”
UArts students joined the union campaign by posting graphics on Instagram that read “My professors deserve health care” and “My professors deserve livable wages.” Student groups such as the school’s NAACP chapter encouraged students to email Yager and ask him to allow all faculty members to vote in the election, whether they were teaching this semester or not.
UArts had tried to disqualify instructors from voting in the election if they weren’t teaching this semester, the union said. Ultimately, part-timers were eligible to vote if they had taught in two semesters in the last two years. Such a “look-back” period is standard in determining eligibility for adjunct faculty union elections, the union said.
UAP and the UArts union are part of a wave of growth in unionization at higher education institutions at a time when union membership in other industries has fallen. In the last seven years, there was an 81% increase in bargaining units at private institutions, according to a study this year by the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY).
Thousands of contingent higher-education instructors across the country have turned to unions to fight for job security, better pay, and a voice in university decisions. In the Philadelphia area, the nearly 200 adjunct faculty at Arcadia University joined UAP in 2017. At Temple, 1,400 adjuncts joined the university’s staff union in 2015.
In 2018, contingent workers — adjuncts, non-tenure-track faculty, and graduate students — made up nearly three-quarters of teaching staff in higher education in the United States, according to federal data. Part-time teachers made up 40% of that workforce, up from 24% in 1975. In the fall of 2018 at UArts, that number was even higher: 76% of instructors were adjuncts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.