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Adjunct faculty, who teach 75 percent of classes at SF Art Institute, win contract

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Adjunct faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute are now among SEIU Local 1021’s more than 50,000 members. (James Chan/Special to S.F. Examiner)

After more than three years of organizing, adjunct faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute ratified their first contract March 30, giving them work stability, a raise and health benefits for the first time.

The win is part of a larger effort to unionize a group of workers at higher education institutions who are low-paid and precariously employed by institutions that increasingly rely on them to teach their students.

“This has been a rather difficult three-year struggle to complete our first-ever adjunct faculty contract at SFAI,” said Carolyn Duffey, a bargaining team member and Interdisciplinary Studies Department adjunct faculty member.

The SFAI Adjunct Union represents about 100 people who make up roughly 75 percent of those teaching art at the Art Institute. In contrast, the SFAI Adjunct Union represents about 25 percent of total faculty, according to the union’s website, and supported the adjunct union’s efforts.

The adjunct workers at the nearly 150-year-old school in North Beach are now part of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, a mostly public sector union in San Francisco with more than 50,000 members.

“They are the forgotten few, I would say,” SFAI union representative Thomas Vitalie said. “Believe it or not, after all is said and done, they are part of a larger low-wage worker campaign that SEIU is waging.”

Adjunct faculty members previously didn’t know if they would get a teaching assignment each semester and often would only get one teaching assignment, according to Vitalie. The average pay for each course was about $5,500 for adjuncts, as opposed to roughly $6,500 per class for permanent staff. What’s more, there was a constant turnover as older, more experienced adjuncts burned out and the school hired new adjuncts in their place.

The 3-year contract gives union members protection from unfair firings and will guarantee pay for canceled classes. The contract also sets out a system for scheduled raises based on seniority.

The unionization campaign is one in a series of wins for the union’s fight to organize faculty unions in the Bay Area. SEIU 1021 has now organized adjunct unions as five private Bay Area colleges with two more on the way.

SEIU 1021 previously secured contracts at California College of the Arts, Mills College, Saint Mary’s College and Dominican University of California. The union is in contract negotiations with Holy Names University and Notre Dame de Namur University.

Jennifer Rissler, Dean Academic Affairs at SFAI, said the contract is a good thing for the school.

“I think it’s a very healthy contract,” she said. “I think it’s great for the institution,” adding that staff stability will give more stability to students and the school.

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