A bunch of underpaid adjuncts walk into a bar…

On Wednesday, May 7, about twenty-five SFAI contingent faculty members held an all-faculty meeting at an undisclosed location with no union organizers present. Our intention was to find organic, productive ways to talk about the upcoming union election, to affirm the need for union representation, and to empower ourselves to use that representation to our advantage. The meeting was very exciting, mainly because we got to reveal facts and stories that we’d long been keeping to ourselves– either out of shame or discomfort or concern for our respective professional image/s. Some of us described the following experiences:

–Working at SFAI for 4, 7, or 12 years without a single raise. No cost-of-living; no performance reviews; no merit pay. Nothing.

–Receiving a two-year contract with a salary offer that was lower (per year) than the previous years’ salary

–Being hired as an adjunct with promises of consideration for future tenure-track employment (“keep in mind that we promote from within…”), only to be told one or two years later that no tenure-track lines would be created for at least five more years

–Being interviewed (on the same day as eleven other Visiting Faculty in the same department) for the one tenure-track position to come available in years, with no internal candidate invited for an on-campus interview

–Admitting to everyone in the room that none of us have any bargaining power over wages or benefits, despite the administration insisting to us that we have “individual control” over the terms of our employment

[Solidarity and excitement about airing our frustrations to each other: priceless.]

Union election ballots go out tomorrow. If you’re eligible to vote, consider voting “yes”. It will give our voice more volume in this debate.


Show up in solidarity (or just get your questions answered) at today’s meeting at SFAI

Today at 12 pm, the administration is holding a meeting at SFAI’s Chestnut campus to discuss the implications of unionizing. We’ll need plenty of faculty there who are either planning to vote “yes” to the union, or who are seriously considering it. If you’re on the fence, this is a great time to have pro-union people and anti-union administration in the same room so that you can ask them questions. The meeting is at noon in Studio 18 at 800 Chestnut Street.


Studio 18 is a small room, so let’s fill it up. 

SFAI Dean Rachel Schreiber (a labor scholar) writes anti-union email to SFAI

SFAI Dean Rachel Schreiber has an apparently complex relationship to questions about labor. Her book, Modern Print Activism in the United States, “focus[es] on specific groups, individuals, and causes that relied on print as a vehicle for activism”. Past classes that she has taught include “Sex Work, Real Work”, which deals with questions of labor in the sex industry. On May 5, she wrote the following letter to SFAI faculty denouncing the Service Employees International Union and discouraging the faculty from seeking union representation. 
Dear Faculty,
Election Ballots will be mailed to you next Monday, May 12, for the upcoming election that will allow to decide whether to remain independent and have a direct relationship with the Art Institute, or join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Your ballots must be received by the NLRB in San Francisco no later than May 28 in order to be counted. Please make sure you mail your ballot by May 26, 2014.
SFAI encourages you to vote No.
You have already received a great deal of information about this important election; I would like to make two vital points:
If you do not vote, others will decide for you.
This election will be decided by 51% of those who vote. If you receive a ballot in the mail, that means you will be subject to the contract negotiations that will ensue if the SEIU is voted in. Don’t let others decide for you!
The key question: Is SEIU the right union for you?
There are very significant issues facing adjunct faculty at most institutions, including SFAI. But this particular election will not guarantee solutions to these problems. Instead, this election will only decide if you commit to having SEIU represent you.
I believe SEIU is not the right union. That is why I encourage you to vote no.
Among my reasons why you should vote against unionization by SEIU:
* SEIU has made questionable promises to you — they cannot make guarantees regarding pay increases, job security, or other benefits prior to negotiations.
* SEIU has been criticized for “charges of coziness with big employers, limits on internal democracy, excessive deference to Democratic party leaders and frequent clashes with other unions.” [Source: http://inthesetimes.com/article/13471/wrong_union_for_the_job]
* SEIU does not have a long history with higher education, and certainly not with small independent colleges. They have not yet negotiated a contract with an art school, so there are many unknowns.
Signing on to SEIU would be a big commitment, and despite what they say, it’s not an easy one to undo.
More information about why SEIU is not right for you is available at: sfaivote.org.
I wish you the best as classes end this week.
All best,


Info on SFAI’s union-busting lawyers

In reaction to SFAI’s move to organize, SFAI administration has hired lawyer Ron Holland from the firm of Sheppard-Mullin. This firm is notorious for its union-busting activities, and gives an outline of its offerings here. 

Sheppard Mullin seems to be scripting a lot of the administration’s communications with Visiting Faculty. Many of the things that administrators have told us, like “You’ll lose your autonomy if you unionize!” or “Is [insert union here] really the RIGHT union for you?” are standard union-blocking  devices to create fear and mistrust among the faculty.  The link above shows that this isn’t really advice or dialogue; it’s scripted anti-union fearmongering.

New to the debate? SFAI’s Christian Nagler answers some FAQ.

-Why was SEIU chosen and how did this come about? Who initiated this?
I reached out to SEIU after Kristina Podesva emailed me to say she had talked with an organizer at SEIU. I had had good experiences with SEIU in Baltimore years ago when we grad students were supporting laundry and janitorial workers in their struggle for a living wage. I met with a couple organizers and talked about my working conditions and some of the issues faculty have been concerned with, and whether it seemed feasible to organize at SFAI.  Then met with a few faculty about what I found out. A few were very excited and a couple told me I should talk to CFT (California Federation of Teachers) organizers to get their sense of what would be the best for us. They said that they thought SEIU would do a good job, both in terms of building momentum, and in terms of giving us the legal support to negotiate a good contract. They said the “metro” strategy was a good idea for art schools. I talked to someone at CTA who said the same thing. I also talked to two labor organizer friends of mine in Boston and Philly who said that they thought SEIU’s adjunct campaign was “interesting and innovative” It was at this point that I thought I would dive in and start organizing.
-What are the strengths and weaknesses of SEIU in comparison to other unions that we could organize under?
In my perception the weakness of the SEIU is their aggressive first-stage momentum building tactics, which can be alienating. They are known for getting things moving in workplaces that are difficult to organize. They represent a wide spectrum of service economy jobs, which can be a difficult concept for artist/teachers who don’t easily conceive of themselves in the same boat with other service workers (this has been an organizing obstacle, though it’s one of the most exciting aspects of organizing with SEIU for me). Their different locals have very different operating principles. A different local (not 1021) has been involved in some contentious negotiations with large health care providers. They are leading the national struggle to organize fast food workers for living wages. And organizing the city employees against the Twitter tax breaks.
On the pros of their scale, they have a lot of research and legal support, and a large strike fund. They respond quickly, and build community support well, especially across sectors. They have major bargaining power, but they are more nimble and adaptive, generally, than, say, the UAW.
The con of their scale is that they don’t always promote trust, and their strategies (especially in the first stages, pre-election) can be scripted.
The good thing about local 1021 is that they have a radical tradition of member-led bargaining. They are affiliated with CFA who negotiated the contract at SFSU. We would have access to educational contract specialists from both CFA and SEIU.
The other teacher’s unions have more experience representing local higher-ed, but SEIU has more experience organizing higher-ed contingents under new labor conditions. SEIU has successfully organized art schools, which has proved difficult for more traditional teacher’s unions.
-How do we avoid creating a situation under which our employment is more precarious rather than less?
Some of us have been arguing that our situation couldn’t get more precarious.  Many many faculty have been let go for bringing up very commonsense concerns in open meetings. The admin was on the verge of instituting a two year limit before this process started.They stepped back from that plan partly because of the pressures of imminent unionization. But good job security is something the engaged faculty have been thinking about from the beginning, in terms of looking at contracts and speaking to people at workplaces (both higher-ed and non higher-ed) who have achieved considerable job security in their contracts. MICA is involved in negotiating terms right now, with SEIU. This is going to be our major demand, and will probably take the most thought to hammer out.
-What are the terms and conditions we are most committed to win in these negotiations? How will these be decided within the group of workers represented in these negotiations? How will the negotiations be structured, when will they take place?
After talking with faculty at SFAI Mills and CCA since last fall about these things, this is my general perception of priorities in negotiations, in descending order of importance:
greater job security (again this will be the strategic one); Wage increases in step with the cost of living, including paid office hours and critiques; clear routes to advancement; a role in institutional governance (this is what I feel passionate about); greater transparency and accountability administratively; paid opportunities for professional development, access to research funds; retirement benefits; some people seem to care about health benefits, some not.
I can’t speak to the precise terms of how all of these will pan out, since it will take a collective intelligence, with supportive expertise, to work it out. Again, I can send you contracts that have worked.
Many of the faculty have proposed a horizontal assembly structure to negotiations and representation — I’ve been involved in those conversations, but my sense is that Lee W and Laura F have a really clear sense of what they want from that process. You might want to reach out to them. Jonathan from SEIU has said that this idea is in step with what the union encourages. SEIU has various polls and surveys that could possibly help us locate demands, they also have many examples of contracts that have been beneficial, and we could also have visits from faculty at other schools around the country who have negotiated good contracts. 
-How much interaction will we have with SIEU after unionization and negotiation? Are the people we will interact with different from the organizers? What will dues look like? 
After negotiation the union rep will be on call as a consultant. If re-negotiations are needed, we negotiate the time schedule for them — 2 years is pretty standard — but it could be one year, or three, depending on what we decide.
Right now we are interacting with organizers (some of them brand-new organizers!). After election we will choose a union rep from the local.
Dues are 1.74% only after we’ve negotiated a contract that benefits us more than that. The range of wage increase for unionization is from 14% at the lowest to 45% at the highest. There is no initiation fee.

One faculty member’s response to president Charles Desmerais

In response to Mr. Desmarais’ call to vote “no” to a union at SFAI:


Dear Mr. Desmarais:

I do not believe we have ever met, but I was visiting faculty in English at SFAI this past fall, and I would like to share with you my experiences there and my feelings on your discouragement of a faculty union and your promotion of instead communicating directly and “collegially” with SFAI administration. Ironically, your very knowledge of my email address, existence, and possible vote on the matter is only due, even now, to SEIU handing you the information.

In my one-semester experience at SFAI, every attempt I made to communicate with superiors–whether an invitation to observe my class, a proposal I submitted to your call for upper-division classes, or, finally, the inquiries I made as to the following semester’s schedule–was patently and systematically ignored.

With a Ph.D. in literature and years of experience teaching college-level composition, I came highly recommended and began teaching English at SFAI in August of 2013. Since SFAI was now one of three jobs, I had to give up a job in the city because, like most adjunct professors, my schedule and the commute (especially to North Beach) could not accommodate all three. While I am well aware that adjunct professors are never guaranteed a class the following semester, it was reasonable to assume that I would at least be informed whether or not I had a class and certainly given the time to arrange a commitment with a different job, should there be no space for me. This was not the case.

In short, I was never told when the schedule was being put together or whether I was even considered for a class the following spring, and my inquiries to both the department chair and academic support, Rose Chung, were left unanswered. It was only thanks to a colleague that I found out the schedule had been made and that he, at least, was on it.

In that span of time, I lost the chance to reconnect with my former job in the city, which resulted in a total of 6 months off the schedule and a mandatory termination of my active status, thus losing the benefits of an MRA with Healthy San Francisco. Because of SFAI’s inability to respond to my emails, I was left with no job in the city, no health coverage, and no sense of worth, visibility, or value in your community.

That said, your insistence that we cannot “negotiate any better arrangement than could be achieved by working directly and collegially with the SFAI administration” is, as you can see, faulty, unless it is your view that the only arrangement allowed part-time faculty is to wait silently, like a match in the wind, only to find out we do not have a class or a voice. I do not see how this represents a “community working together toward a common purpose.”

Above all, I find it very hypocritical to suggest that a union could, as you write, have a “negative impact on real art” and “real education” at the very school that touts its own Diego Rivera Gallery and mural—was Diego Rivera not a real artist? Was his art negatively impacted because he so famously trumpeted workers’ rights and, in fact, helped to establish the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors in 1922? I do not think it was, and I, for one, will be voting a resounding “yes” to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021.


Dr. Elle Weatherup