Philly’s University of the Arts says ‘Union Yes’

Faculty at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia have voted resoundingly to join the AFT, tallying a whopping 99 percent “yes” vote in an election that was finalized Nov. 24. Now, 356 full- and part-time faculty will have a voice in the way workers are treated at their university and a shot at improved job security, livable wages, reasonable workloads, adequate health insurance and more.


“As the whole world has grappled with the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing economic disaster and the long-overdue reckoning with racial injustice in our country, educators have been nothing short of heroic,” says AFT Pennsylvania President Arthur Steinberg, welcoming UArts faculty into the Pennsylvania union family. “As UArts and other institutions of higher education continue to navigate their response to the crises we face, it’s imperative their workers have a voice in making colleges and universities safe and equitable spaces for everyone who learns and works there.”

Adjunct faculty are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, as job security is already precarious for them. Although universities across the nation rely heavily on this group of academics, who are hired on an as-needed, contractual basis and are frequently part-time workers, they fail to provide fair pay and keep job predictability unreliable at best. It all adds up to adjuncts who are distracted over staying afloat, and who are less able to deliver the kind of teaching and mentoring they want to provide for their students.

“Prior to being hired full time, I was an adjunct professor at UArts and several other institutions for 18 years—at times teaching at five different colleges,” says Laura Frazure, an assistant professor and coordinator of sculpture within the Fine Arts Department in the School of Art. “I am excited to win a union at UArts to give faculty a meaningful voice in university governance and a central role in defining the culture of the institution.”

“UArts faculty love teaching, we want our students to succeed, and we have issues that will only be addressed if a strong faculty union represents us,” says John Woodin, an adjunct professor of photography in the School of Art. As a professional artist, freelance photographer and professor, Woodin is one of many academics juggling multiple responsibilities. “I look forward to being represented by a strong union at UArts that has the power to negotiate issues that critically affect the safety, health and working conditions of our faculty.”

Meanwhile, full-time faculty, who struggle with increasing workloads and lack of faculty governance opportunities, will also benefit the union and expect to have more say in university policy moving forward.

“As the country faces unprecedented economic, health, climate and racial justice crises, the protection and voice provided by a union is more important than ever,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Working people need living wages; access to affordable, high-quality healthcare; and a pathway to a stable retirement. But too many jobs in higher education continue to be precarious and undervalued—and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. UArts faculty toil tirelessly to support and educate the next generation, and now they have a permanent seat at the table to advocate for themselves and their students.”

The UArts faculty will be part of United Academics of Philadelphia, an AFT metrowide Local and Organizing Project for Higher Education Faculty and Staff. UAP has organized part-time faculty before, with its first bargaining unit at Arcadia University. University of the Arts will be the local’s second bargaining unit and the first time the local has organized full-time faculty at a private university.

“We are so excited to officially welcome the University of the Arts faculty into UAP,” says UAP President Daniel Pieczkolon. “Their incredible organizing efforts over the last few years are speaking loudly in the results of this election, and we look forward to the opportunity to have their voices formally recognized so that we can begin creating the teaching conditions they deserve and the learning conditions their students need.”

[AFT Communications staff]