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FAQ: California Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO Petition to Represent ArtCenter Faculty

The following frequently asked questions and answers are provided to ensure that ArtCenter faculty have the information needed to make a well-informed decisions about union representation. If you have questions not addressed here, please submit them to facultylife@artcenter.edu.



ArtCenter’s Position

Q: What is the position of ArtCenter administration on unionization?

A: The administration supports our faculty's right to choose whether they wish to be represented by a union. While our strong preference is to maintain our direct working relationship with our valued faculty and not work through a union, we will nonetheless respect the faculty's decision if, through the election process, they make the choice for representation. We will commit to working in good faith and partnership with the union.

Q: Why does the administration believe a direct relationship is preferable?

A: Maintaining a direct working relationship with our faculty is central to fostering ArtCenter’s unique mission and continuing to improve our workplace culture. This direct working relationship has produced a strong track record of shared governance and of valuing, respecting and acting on the concerns and recommendations of our faculty. We are not like other schools. We rely on studio and academic faculty who are often busy working professionals and who require a nimble and rapid response to some very specific needs. Maintaining that flexibility is essential, we believe, to the quality of education we offer.

If the union prevails in the election, ArtCenter would no longer be able to communicate directly with its faculty about such issues as compensation and benefits, policies and practices, and other working conditions, since doing so would be againgst federal law (known as "direct dealing"). Working through a union — especially through a union that has limited understanding of small, private art and design institutions like ours — could change a culture that we all value and that makes ArtCenter special.

Q: Supporters of unionization of ArtCenter faculty suggest that it would lead to more equitable treatment, better learning outcomes for students and a brighter future for ArtCenter. Does the administration agree with this assessment?

A: The administration supports these goals too but believes the best path to achieve them is through a direct relationship with our faculty, not a union.

We are privileged at ArtCenter to have so many passionate and engaged faculty who care deeply about our College and our students. Through our direct relationship we have been able to work collaboratively, to act quickly on recommendations and to problem-solve. While we know we haven't gotten everything right, we believe we have a strong track record of shared governance and of valuing, respecting and acting on the concerns and recommendations of our faculty.

The new Shared Governance Senate is just the most current example of this. This new shared governance structure was initiated by ArtCenter faculty. The representative task force is completing a proposal to the community now. The introduction of a union could upend the Senate before it even gets off the ground.

Our DEI Action Plan is another example of acting on and working together to address issues brought forward by ArtCenter faculty. Under a collective bargaining unit agreement, however, we might not have the flexibility to move forward with certain initiatives within the action plan, including our diversity cluster hire, providing new culturally responsive course offerings and workshops, mandated compliance with DEI employee learning requirements and incorporation of DEI practices into the faculty review process.

ArtCenter administration—current and future—is deeply committed to ensuring our faculty have a voice in how our College operates and a role in designing, implementing and leading change. We would like to continue that mission without involving a third party.

Union Impacts on Faculty and ArtCenter

Q: Can a union alleviate the need for part-time faculty to submit timesheets?

A: This may be a subject of bargaining if the union prevails in the election. But the union cannot override California or federal law, and ArtCenter would never agree to any policy or practice that would be illegal.

We hope faculty will consider whether any potential union promise concerning timesheets – a promise that the union cannot guarantee – is sufficient reason to move forward with a union given the significant impact union representation will have on faculty individually as well as how we work together.

There are several examples from around our institution of how departments have worked to lessen the administrative burden associated with the statutorily required submission of timesheets. These include increased administrative support, pre-populating portions of the timesheet and text message reminders, and there are likely a variety of other ways this process could be made easier.

Q: Won’t having a union increase compensation and job security?

A: Not necessarily. If a union is elected to represent ArtCenter faculty, the administration and the union will negotiate in good faith over mandatory subjects of bargaining; however, that does not guarantee an agreement on anything. A union cannot unilaterally increase compensation or preserve jobs at ArtCenter

In contrast, working together over the past few years, we have made many important changes to compensation and job security as a result of your input. Examples include:

  • Ensuring parity through alignment of pay grids for full- and part-time faculty.
  • Enhacning transparency by aligning academic rank with pay grids, providing faculty with visibility to their pay potential.
  • Implementing a three-year performance review cycle with potential for merit pay increases.
  • Following a pandemic-related moratorium on faculty merit increases during the 2021 academic year, the administration reorganized the budget to double funding available for merit increases, meeting nearly all of the $1.1 million in increases requested.
  • Providing faculty the opportunity to review their department chairs.
  • Removing the "at-will" clause from full-time faculty contracts.
  • The new shared governance model (the Shared Governance Senate) will also provide avenues to address work rules and compensation issues.

Q: If the union is elected, can faculty choose not to be represented by the union?

No. If the CFT, AFL-CIO prevails in this election, all ArtCenter faculty who are in the bargaining unit will be subject to union representation and any resulting collective bargaining agreement. Faculty would not have the ability to opt out or decline union representation.

Q: How would CFT, AFL-CIO representation affect my relationship with ArtCenter? What happens to my voice if a union is elected?

A: At ArtCenter, we believe that being flexible to the individual needs of our faculty best serves you, our students, and our institution. If CFT, AFL-CIO were elected, they would become your exclusive bargaining agent and, under federal labor law, it would be illegal for ArtCenter to enter into direct dealing (i.e. bargain with) individual faculty or with groups of faculty who are not part of the union negotiating committee.

Under a CFT, AFL-CIO contract, faculty may find themselves subject to “one size fits all” rules and restrictions. With many varied interests involved in the negotiation process, it would be very difficult for the union to take every faculty member’s unique needs and preferences into consideration. Historically, this has been something you can often work out with your department chair. What may be important to you may not be as important to the negotiating committee or consistent with the union's broader agenda.

Q: Organizers say that faculty unionization will enhance diversity, equity and inclusion at ArtCenter. Does the administration agree with that assessment?

A: No. ArtCenter is fully committed to fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community, not only in vision but in practice and we are concerned that faculty unionization could impede our ability to be innovative and creative in how we strengthen our culture of DEI.

Because collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) generally take a one-size-fits-all approach to activities including hiring, scheduling and workplace policies, we could lose our ability to be agile and responsive to the needs of specific communities within our College. For example, if a CBA were in place today, we might not have the flexibility to move forward with our diversity cluster hire or to mandate compliance with DEI employee learning requirements or ensure that DEI practices are incorporated into the faculty review process—all major commitments within our DEI Action Plan.

Q: Would unionization lead to an increase in tuition?

A: Unionization would absolutely increase ArtCenter’s legal and administrative costs. Unlike public institutions represented by CFT, AFL-CIO, ArtCenter does not receive operating funds from the State of California, so we would have to find ways to cover these additional costs, including, potentially, increasing tuition.

ArtCenter is very sensitive to the costs of education and the needs of our students and strives to make an ArtCenter education more accessible to more people. There is no question that unionization could complicate these efforts.

Q: If the union represents me, what will I pay in dues?

A: Educators and classified professionals represented by CFT, AFL-CIO pay annual dues ranging from $71 to $569. These are post-tax dollars, meaning they are withheld from an employee's net compensation.

In 2020, CFT, AFL-CIO collected $21.3 million from its members:

    • Less than 1% of expenditures was on behalf of individual members
    • $14.9 million was spent on representational activities; political activities and lobbying; contributions, gifts and grants; general overhead; and union administration
    • $0 were paid in strike benefits
    • Of 52 employees, 23 were paid more than $122,000
    • CFT, AFL-CIOs president, Jeffrey M. Freitas, is paid an annual salary of $182,375.

You can learn more about CFT, AFL-CIO expenditureshere.

Q: Who decides how much union dues will be?

A: The union—not the employer—sets the amount of dues. CFT, AFL-CIO annual dues range from $71 to $569. The union also has the legal right to increase dues as it sees fit. In 2020, CFT, AFL-CIO more than doubled its minimum annual dues, from $28 to $70. Unlike salaries and benefits, dues are not negotiated between the union and the employer.

Q: Would a strike result in the forced cancellation of classes?

A: It is highly likely that classes would be cancelled if a strike were imposed. As a result, a strike would effectively punish the constituency we are all here to serve – the students.

Q: If the union is voted in, can it be removed?

A: The National Labor Relations Act allows employees to call for a special election to decertify or vote out a union as their “ exclusive representative,” but it is not easy. To do so, 30% or more of the bargaining unit must sign a decertification petition, after which the National Labor Relations Board would conduct a secret ballot election to determine if a majority of the employees wish to decertify the union. Employees who wish to oust an existing union face many obstacles, including raising funds, getting legal counsel, securing signatures and campaigning— all within specific, limited timeframes.

An employer cannot assist in any way. It is against the law. You can read the NLRB process to decertify a union after it has been elected here.

Once voted in, the union is usually there to stay. At a minimum, any faculty attempt to decertify the union is barred for one year after an election, and if the union and an employer have reached a collective bargaining agreement, then it can’t happen during the term of the CBA, except during very limited timeframes.

About CFT, AFL-CIO

Q: Who is the California Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO?

A: The CFT, AFL-CIO is a union of educators and classified professionals affiliated with the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and through it with the AFL-CIO.

The CFT comprises 140 local unions chartered by the AFT. Each local union is affiliated with its regional AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and the California Labor Federation. Through its local unions, the CFT represents more than 120,000 educational employees. You can learn more about the CFT/AFL-CIO at cft.org.

Q: What is CFT, AFL-CIO’s mission?

The CFT, AFL-CIO’s mission is to be the champion for the public education system. Its mission statement reads:

All Californians benefit when our educational system is fully funded, accessible, and equitable. Working together with students, parents, teachers, support staff, families, communities, and community partners, CFT will be the champion for the public education system that Californians deserve. We will be the trusted voice fighting against corporatization, privatization, and underfunding.

Q: Does CFT, AFL-CIO have experience representing institutions like ours?

A: No. Actually, the CFT originally formed as a union of K-12 teachers and has expanded to represent employees in higher education. This includes faculty at numerous community colleges throughout California as well as the non-Senate faculty and librarians on the 10 campuses in the University of California system. Much of CFT/AFL-CIO’s representation is of employees at public, rather than private, institutions. You can learn more about who CFT/AFL-CIO represents on their website.

Q: Who is the National Federation of Teachers?

The American Federation of Teachers is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO and represents 1.7 million members in more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide.

There are five divisions within the AFT: pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; and nurses and other healthcare professionals. In addition, the AFT represents approximately 80,000 early childhood educators and nearly 250,000 retiree members.

The CFT pays dues to the AFT, $2.5 million in 2020.

Q: Who is the AFL-CIO

A: The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is the largest federation of unions in the United States. It is made up of 57 national and international unions, together representing more than 12.5 million active and retired workers. AFL-CIO affiliated unions range from the Actors Equity Association and Air Line Pilots Association to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Utility Workers of America.

Faculty Rights

Q: What are my rights throughout this process?

A: ArtCenter faculty have the right to decide whether they want to be represented by a union free from influence or interference. Throughout the election, faculty have the legal right to speak and organize for or against union representation. Federal law protects your rights to:

  • Talk to your fellow faculty during work time about your views for or against a union, just as you are allowed to discuss other personal matters.
  • Organize with your fellow faculty to make your collective views known about the advantages or disadvantages of CFT/AFL-CIO representation at ArtCenter.
  • Distribute information about the advantages or disadvantages of union representation at ArtCenter as long as you don’t do so while instructing a class or disrupting someone else’s class.
  • Attend meetings or gatherings to discuss the pros or cons of CFT/AFL-CIO representation or the benefits of having a direct relationship with ArtCenter.
  • You have the right to discuss unionization with your department chair, supervisor or any other members of the administration at any time.
  • You are free to speak with or refuse to speak with union organizers or advocates who call you or visit you on campus or at home. There is no law or policy that requires faculty or staff to speak with union or CFT/AFL-CIO representatives either at home or in the workplace, and you are free to respond as you wish.

Q: What rights do I have if union representatives approach me, call me or visit me at home? Am I required to speak with them?

A: No. There is no law or policy that requires employees to speak with union representatives either at home or in the workplace, and you are free to respond accordingly.

Q: Did ArtCenter provide my home address to the union?

A: No. ArtCenter was required by law to provide the NLRB with the home addresses and personal contact information for all faculty members who are eligible to vote in the union election. The NLRB shared this information with the CFT, AFL-CIO.

Q: What recourse do I have if I feel intimidated or coerced by CFT, AFL-CIO or ArtCenter?

A: If you feel your fundamental right to make a choice free from pressure is being violated, please report it immediately to the National Labor Relations Board at 310 235-7351.

Q: What is the role of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)?

A: The NLRB is an independent federal agency created to enforce the National Labor Relations Act. Headquartered in Washington DC, it has regional offices across the country where employees, employers and unions can file charges alleging illegal behavior, or file petitions seeking an election regarding union representation. The NLRB conducts and oversees union elections. on the NLRB website.

Voting and Election Processes

Q: What is the election process and voting timeline?

  A:   The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will conduct a secret ballot election via U.S. mail. The ballots will be mailed to eligible voters on Friday, May 27, 2022, and they must be returned, via mail, to the NLRB no later than June 17. The vote tally will take place on June 21, 2022, at 2 p.m.   The outcome of the election will be determined by a simple majority of the votes that are cast – 50% + 1. This means that every vote matters.   If only 50 people vote, they will determine the outcome for all faculty members in the voting group. We strongly encourage all eligible faculty members to exercise their right to vote and to put their ballot in the mail as soon as possible, but no later than June 10 to ensure it reaches the NLRB in time to be counted.

 

Q:  Are all faculty included in the proposed bargaining unit?  

A:   All full- and part-time ArtCenter faculty in non-supervisory and non-department chair roles are included in the proposed bargaining unit. Given the unique nature of our institution and significant role that working professionals play, the bargaining unit encompasses all part-time faculty who have been on the ArtCenter payroll in the past 12 months – from May 15, 2021, forward. You can review the petition and NLRB docket activity here.  

Q:  Am I required to vote?  

A:  While voting is not mandatory, it is the only way to have one’s voice heard – whether you are for or against union representation. And, regardless of whether you vote, all faculty in the voting unit will be bound by the outcome of the election.   To prevail in the election, CFT, AFL-CIO needs a majority of the votes cast, not a majority of the total number of voters. This means that every single vote matters. You have a right to self-determine, and we encourage all eligible ArtCenter faculty to exercise this right and cast their vote. This is too important of a decision to sit on the sidelines.

 

Q: If I don’t vote for the union, will I still be in the union and be required to pay dues?  

A:   Yes. All ArtCenter faculty will be bound by the outcome of the vote – regardless of whether or how they voted. It is in your best interest to vote.   If a majority of those who cast ballots vote in favor of the union, then all faculty, including those who voted “No” or didn’t vote at all, would likely be required to pay union dues or an agency fee of an equivalent amount and have the union represent them in collective bargaining with ArtCenter.

 

Q:  What is a secret ballot election?  

A:   A secret ballot election is just that, secret. This means that no one – not the union and not ArtCenter, not even the NLRB – will know how you voted. The only way for someone to know how you voted is if you choose to tell them.  

Q: Can the election date be pushed back to give faculty more time to dialogue on this important issue?  

A:   No. Once the union files a petition, it starts a timeline dictated by NLRB rules. The mail ballot distribution, return deadline, and ballot count date are unlikely to change.   

Q: Do I have to sign a union authorization card to be eligible to vote in the election?  

A:   No. Some faculty signed union authorization cards. Others did not. Every faculty member included in the bargaining unit is eligible to vote, regardless of whether they signed an authorization card. In addition, signing a union authorization card does not require you to vote for the union in an election.  

Q: If I am on leave or traveling during the election, does that mean I will miss the opportunity to vote?

A: The NLRB will mail voting information to the home addresses of all members of the voting unit on May 27, 2022. Additionally, ArtCenter will use multiple communication channels to alert faculty of the vote. It is our hope that even if you are on leave you will have the opportunity to exercise your right to vote.

Q: I didn’t sign a union authorization card and I know many other faculty who didn’t either. Why did the NLRB authorize an election?

A: To initiate the election process, the NLRB requires a showing of support from a minimum of 30% of employees in the proposed voting unit. Therefore, most faculty did not need to sign cards for the election to go forward. Importantly, faculty who did sign authorization cards are not required to vote in the election. This is a secret ballot election, meaning no one will know whether or how you vote.  

Collective Bargaining

Q: What is “collective bargaining?”

A: Collective bargaining requires an employer and the representative of its employees (i.e., a union) to meet at reasonable times, confer in good faith about mandatory subjects of bargaining and put into writing any agreement reached if requested by either party.

Neither party, however, is required to agree to a proposal by the other, nor must either side make a concession to the other.

Q: What things would be subject to collective bargaining?

All mandatory subjects of bargaining, including workplace policies and practices, working conditions, compensation and benefits would be subject to negotiation under a collective bargaining agreement. For ArtCenter faculty, this could affect our employment agreements and contract types, teaching loads, how classes get assigned, non-instructional activities, interdisciplinary and team teaching and our ability to be agile and flexible in meeting the differing and unique needs of our faculty and students.

Q: What does the union mean when it says, “the school’s budget process is separate from the negotiation of a faculty collective bargaining agreement.”?

A: We don’t know what the union means with this statement. But we can tell you that ArtCenter has no separate budget for the costs of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, the unbudgeted costs related to negotiating and administering a union contract could impact important programs or initiatives.

Q: If the union were to win the election, would I be able to participate in the collective bargaining agreement negotiation between the union and the Institute?

A: No, not unless you are one of the few bargaining unit members selected to participate.

Typically, on the union side the primary negotiator is a union employee who is joined by just a handful of bargaining unit members. On the management side, there is a chief negotiator and a few select members of management.

Q: How long does it take to complete an initial collective bargaining agreement (CBA)?

A: Reaching a collective bargaining agreement is often a long and tedious process that can take years to negotiate. For example, California College of the Arts (CCA) started negotiations with the SEIU, the union representing CCA staff, in October 2019, and an agreement was not reached until April 2022. A separate existing contract between CCA and its adjunct faculty expired in 2020 and was not renewed until April 2022 due to the negotiating process.

Q: What happens to wages and work rules while a CBA is being negotiated?

A: If the union were to prevail in the election, generally, existing wages, work rules and other items remain in effect as they are while the CBA is being negotiated. Indeed, without negotiating with the union first, ArtCenter would typically be prohibited from implementing a wage increase for represented faculty.

Today, ArtCenter can be nimble and flexible when changes need to be made to policies affecting our faculty. This could change dramatically if a union is voted in since everything would have to be negotiated first.

Q: What would be the effect on students if conflict arises during collective bargaining?

A: Regardless of whether the union prevails in the election, our goal is to ensure that teaching and learning at ArtCenter are not adversely impacted. However, we cannot guarantee the actions of the union.