The faculty of the Pasadena ArtCenter College of Design earlier this month voted to join AFT/CFT, the California branch of the American Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Organizations, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The college’s seven hundred full- and part-time faculty members cast their ballots via mail: These were counted on June 21, with sixty percent in favor of unionizing.
The unionization arrived after two years of sustained campaigning by faculty, which was met by the administration with resistance and an active anti-union effort that included the spread of disinformation and aggressive letters from department chairs. The unionizers sought the support of their peers through one-on-one conversations and a strong social media presence. They additionally reached out to student groups, community organizations, and labor associations for assistance.
“We organized this union for transparency around issues like hiring, salary, raises, and promotions,” Kim Fisher, a part-time faculty member in the school’s fine arts department told CFT. “Too many part-time faculty members have been waiting on fair wages for years. Some haven’t had a raise in ten years. It’s time for things to change.”
The ArtCenter College of Design offers eleven undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in disciplines spanning visual and applied arts and industrial design. More than two thousand students currently enrolled at the college. The faculty’s decision to unionize is reflective of a broader shift across the United States that in the past few years has seen staffs at museums across the country as well as workers at such tax-credit-receiving behemoths as Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks unionize in an effort to gain fair wages and decent working standards as the nation’s wealth gap continues to widen, with people of color suffering the most.
The unionizers see the result of their efforts as enriching not only staff but students. “We are thrilled that both full-time and part-time faculty joined together to create an unified voice,” Cole Case, a part-time faculty member in the college’s integrated studies department, told CRT. “This will make the ArtCenter we love an even stronger home for our students and faculty.”
“We are elated to welcome the ArtCenter faculty into the CFT family and are eager to support them as they begin the process of negotiating their first contract,” said CFT president Jeff Freitas. “We look forward to helping faculty obtain the professional wages and benefits they need and deserve to do their important work.”