Faculty and staff at three private universities in California have voted to join the California Federation of Teachers and the AFT, amplifying their voices in the workplace and swelling the ranks of union-represented faculty and staff by more than 800 members. The votes—at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena in June, Dominican University of California in San Rafael in May, and The Claremont Colleges Services, a coordinating and support organization for the seven Claremont Colleges in Claremont, in March—will amplify faculty and staff voices on nine different campuses.
Strengthening the arts in Pasadena
At Pasadena ArtCenter College of Design, part-time and full-time faculty united to form the CFT’s newest union. The National Labor Relations Board counted votes on June 21.
The college enrolls more than 2,000 students in 18 undergraduate and graduate degree programs that range from industrial design to visual and applied arts. Unionization efforts, which began in November 2020, were led by faculty across departments. The fight was not an easy one: The CFT reports that ArtCenter administrators instigated widespread anti-union efforts designed to confuse faculty, falsely claiming that outsiders initiated the unionization campaign, sending aggressive emails from department heads and holding meetings to present an anti-union perspective.
But faculty persisted, with one-on-one conversations and creative campaigning that drew on their artistic talents. The campaign website laid out compelling reasons so many faculty favored forming a union, and social media amplified the message. Partnering with students and community members strengthened the cause.
“We organized this union for transparency around issues like hiring, salary, raises and promotions,” says Kim Fisher, a part-time faculty member in fine arts. “Too many part-time faculty members have been waiting on fair wages for years. Some haven’t had a raise in 10 years. It’s time for things to change.”
“We are thrilled that both full-time and part-time faculty joined together to create a unified voice,” says Cole Case, a part-time faculty member in the integrated studies department. “This will make the ArtCenter we love an even stronger home for our students and faculty.”
Resounding, ‘union, yes’ in San Rafael
It was a historic vote in April, when full-time faculty members at Dominican University of California—established in 1890—voted to join the AFT by an 84 percent margin. The process was a testament to community-building among faculty, says Veronica Fruiht, a professor of psychology. Faculty held open and authentic discussions, she says, listening to one another and joining together on shared values and goals.
The union, called the Dominican University of California Faculty Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 6604, will represent 103 full-time faculty members at the private liberal arts college in San Rafael—one of the oldest universities in the state of California. The institution currently enrolls about 1,300 students.
“Our team was in frequent contact about how to best reach out to our full-time faculty and include all voices, making sure no one was left out,” says Laura Greiss Hess, who teaches occupational therapy and holds a Ph.D. That kind of community was key to the victory, which hinged on keeping “collaboration, community and communication at the forefront.”
“Less than a year ago we were a handful of faculty chatting about how to make our workplace more sustainable and wondering if anyone would stand with us in forming a union,” Fruiht says. “I’ve watched my colleagues become leaders and activists, stepping outside of their comfort zones to try and make work better.”
“Helping to unionize the Dominican faculty has been one of the proudest accomplishments of my life,” says Thomas Cavanagh, a professor in the School of Business. “I’m continually amazed by the quality of the people who work here, and I’m excited that we will now have a binding process to advocate for our students, ourselves and our university.” Inspired by union efforts at Amazon and Starbucks as well as the strong backing of the CFT, Cavanaugh adds, “I’m not sure what the future holds but, for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling hopeful.”
Spanning campuses at Claremont
For the librarians and library staff at The Claremont Colleges Services, the central coordinating and support organization for seven independent colleges known as the Claremont Colleges, unionizing means playing a bigger part in improving working and learning conditions for students as well as faculty and staff. Their election, which was counted by the NLRB March 22, showed that 80 percent voted in favor of the union. The bargaining unit, called The Claremont Colleges Services Library Staff Federation, will represent 34 librarians and library workers.
“We came together collectively to have a greater voice and agency in our workplace,” says Jeanine Finn, a librarian and organizer. “We are so excited to launch a new chapter in which we can fully contribute to an environment for education where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”
Librarians are a crucial part of the learning journey for Claremont students, contributing every day to successful teaching, learning and research at each college in the consortium: Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Scripps College, Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute. Together, the colleges serve 9,000 students.
“We want pathways to promotion, transparency, and a voice in our institution,” says librarian Jennifer Beamer. “Unionization is a lawful and constructive way to give us that.”
[Virginia Myers and CFT Communications; photos courtesy CFT]