Workers at the Art Institute and its school ratify 4-year union deal

The employees have affiliated with Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has signed up members at other Chicago institutions.

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Workers and politicians attend a November 2021 rally supporting the union organizing drive by employees at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Workers and politicians attend a November 2021 rally supporting the union organizing drive by employees at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sun-Times file

More than 500 workers at the Art Institute of Chicago and its school who were in the vanguard of a union-organizing wave by museum staffers in Chicago have ratified their first contract.

By an overwhelming vote, the workers approved a four-year agreement that over its life will increase wages from 12.25% to 16.25%, with lower-paid staff getting the largest percentage gains. The contract approval was announced Tuesday in a joint release from the museum and the workers’ union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME’s Council 31, said workers will get immediate wage hikes from 3.25% to 5.5%, plus a one-time bonus of $1,100 to $1,300 based on seniority. Lindall said around 350 workers attended ratification meetings in the last week, with about 95% favoring the contract.

“We got a lot of good wins in the contract,” said Briana Shucart, a member of the union’s bargaining committee. “We had a lot of ground to cover” during 53 bargaining sessions, she said.

She highlighted rules governing grievances, layoff notices and job recalls and a commitment for regular labor-management meetings.

Shucart said many worker concerns grew from cutbacks ordered after the onset of COVID-19.

“The pandemic was a moment where people realized companies are not going to be there for them,” said Shucart, who has worked in enrollment marketing at the school for more than two years.

The museum joined the workers in praising the agreement.

“The Art Institute deeply values its employees and is happy to have reached a contract agreement that meets the needs of our staff and allows us to continue providing a world-class education and cultural experience,” Alexandra Holt, executive vice president for finance and administration at the Art Institute of Chicago, said in the joint news release.

Museum staffers, joined later by those at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, began their campaign for union recognition in 2021 and started bargaining in May 2022. The employee groups are technically separate but they negotiated jointly as Art Institute of Chicago Workers United.

Following their activism, workers at other museums and cultural institutions in Chicago affiliated with AFSCME. The union has signed up members at the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Newberry Library. They are in various stages of contract talks.

The Art Institute agreement boosts the minimum wage to $17 an hour and $18 in 2025. Lindall said the wage floor prior to the deal was $15.80. He said money will continue to be available for merit raises.

The employer agreed to pay a higher percentage of health insurance premiums after the contract’s first year.

AFSCME also represents about 600 nontenure-track faculty at the School of the Art Institute, where bargaining continues.

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