MICA part-time faculty took a big step [Letter]

May 01, 2014

The vote is in: Maryland Institute College of Art's part-time faculty have chosen to unionize as Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 500.

Two weeks ago, ballots were sent out by the National Labor Relations Board to all members of the part-time faculty. There was one question on the ballot: Should MICA's part-time faculty organize itself as an independent union with the power to negotiate? The ballots arrived at the doorsteps of 350 faculty members. Voters marked the box. They put them in a provided envelope.

On Tuesday, April 29, they were counted in a small lecture hall at NLRB with members of the faculty and administration witnessing. It was a carefully choreographed process — with 244 ballots sent in, each envelope was opened, the anonymously marked ballot was dropped in a cardboard box and the envelope exposed to a pair of observers appointed to each side. It took about two hours.

With 71 percent of the ballots returned, MICA part-time faculty voted 163 to 75 to organize themselves as SEIU 500. The decision to organize was ours as guaranteed by law.

There had been a long discussion about whether part-time faculty should organize. MICA's administration, as represented by a corporate attorney, opposed formation of a union. They made their case in emails, letters and meetings. Department heads were encouraged to offer positions against the formation of the union.

The part-time faculty, myself included, focused its attention on winning over colleagues. The only votes we sought over the past month were those of MICA adjuncts. We met with part-time faculty members individually in the halls, outside classrooms, by telephone and even at their doorsteps. We called them, learned about their concerns, held information sessions and addressed questions.

For most of us, it was an exhausting and exhilarating few weeks. As members of the MICA community, we wound up meeting peers across the disciplines — in film, arts, theater, writing and elsewhere. We found an amazing group of intelligent, creative, open-minded people who deserve to represent themselves as a body, not as isolated part-time employees.

Part-time faculty at MICA, which makes up about 60 percent of the total faculty, is an influential body in Baltimore. They work at the theaters, museums, print shops, design studios, architecture firms and even as politicians. And for the first time at MICA, part-time faculty are taking their future in their own hands and consolidating to involve all in decisions that affect them.

It's a tired phrase but true: This is what democracy looks like. Most of us have been "involved" in the past. We have supported causes and politicians, charities and community organizations. For many of us, though, wearing the "Union YES" button was the first time we'd actually rallied in support of ourselves.

We encourage other part-time faculty members in Baltimore to do the same. If you don't do it for yourself, no one will do it for you. Organize. Put on a button. Vote yes. Check the box. Put it in the mail.

John Barry, Baltimore

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