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February 6, 2024

Over the last three years, unionised faculty at the University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia have been engaged in negotiations with school administrators for a first contract. On Sunday (4 February), the union announced on Instagram that it had reached a tentative contract with the school. News of the tentative agreement came just hours before a strike authorisation vote that was scheduled for Monday.

If ratified, this would be the first contract since faculty at UArts voted to unionise in November of 2020; they are organised under the United Academics of Philadelphia, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 9608. Since forming and beginning contract negotiations in March 2021, the union had held multiple actions, demonstrations, and picket lines to draw attention to their cause. Separate negotiations are currently underway for another 100 staff members at the university who are represented by AFT Local 9608.

“It’s very frustrating that progress was so slow for most of that time. If the administration hoped that the UArts Union’s support would fade in the face of grinding progress, they lost that bet,” says Nick Embree, a professor of theatre design and member of the union’s bargaining committee. “We held together, we continued to press for better pay and conditions, and [Sunday] evening reached a tentative agreement towards our union contract,”.

Key issues in the negotiations related to job security, wages and healthcare, among others. Previously there were wage disparities between professors teaching studio and lecture courses, and this also differed depending on the programme and discipline, according to the union.

University of the Arts employees rally outside the institution

If the first contract is ratified the agreement will be retroactive from 1 January 2024, and will be in effect through August 2026. The agreement would result in an increase in pay for both full-time and part-time faculty: an average increase of 11% for full-time faculty in the first year of the contract, while part-time workers would receive an average raise of 13%. The union added that there would be a new minimum payment per credit of $1,275 that most part-time faculty would receive. Around 40% of part-time faculty would now be making at least $5,000 per three-credit course taught, compared to the previous rate of around $3,500 per course, depending on the number of credits.

“More than three years after first forming, our UArts Faculty Union has won an agreement that helps establish pay equity, guarantees annual wage increases and builds real power and fairness for arts educators at University of the Arts,” says Bradley Philbert, an adjunct professor of critical studies and member of the bargaining committee.

Additionally, adjunct faculty who taught last autumn will each receive a $250 signing bonus. The new contract also implements a new minimum salary for full-time faculty of $57,850, an increase of $7,850; the new average for full-time faculty will rise to around $70,000. Another feature of the tentative contract stipulates three non-voting faculty representatives will be added to the university’s board of trustees and president’s council.

“I commend both negotiating teams for their dedicated work, day in and day out, that brought us to a tentative agreement,” UArts president Kerry Walk said in a statement. “It is heartening to see the two sides come together to uphold UArts’ academic excellence across the visual, performing, and creative arts.”

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