Professors at the University of the Arts, most of whom are 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 professors 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, professors 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, a professor 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 something of a verbal agreement with her department chairs that generally ensured that she would be called back each semester to teach a few classes. But not every professor has that setup, she said, and there are other things 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 every professor to vote in the election, whether they were teaching this semester or not.
UArts had tried to disqualify professors from voting in the election if they weren’t teaching this semester, the union said. Ultimately, part-time professors 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.
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UAP and the UArts union are part of a wave of growth in unionization at higher education institutions at 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).