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Columbia College adjuncts file an unfair labor practices charge over coronavirus concerns

The union contends the school is imposing its health and safety plan on part-time instructors.

The exterior of Columbia College Chicago
The union representing part-time faculty at Columbia College Chicago want instructors to be allowed to teach remotely this term.
Columbia College Chicago via Facebook

Part-time faculty members at Columbia College of Chicago are up in arms after the school resumed in-person classes.

Columbia opened campus Monday at 25% in-person capacity despite not having reached an agreement on safety measures with Columbia Faculty Association Local 6602. The union’s unfair labor practice filing contends the school is imposing its health and safety plan without reaching an agreement.

The union represents more than 600 part-time faculty members, which makes up more than two-thirds of all faculty at the school. The union wants its members to be allowed to teach remotely this semester until safety concerns are addressed.

“If Columbia is truly committed to social justice issues or building equity, they have to let these students know that they’re sidestepping the process,” said Diana Vallera, union president and faculty member in the school’s photography department. “They have to let the parents know what they’re paying so much money for, and they have to take care of part-time faculty that were already in a precarious, vulnerable position pre-pandemic.”

The union and campus administrators met more than 15 times over the summer in hopes of reaching an agreement, but talks fell apart Sept. 16, according to Vallera. During the meetings, the union flagged issues with potential outbreaks, students congregating, employee health care access and concerns over ventilation in older campus buildings.

The union wants portable air purifiers in all classrooms where in-person instruction will take place.

The college said it’ll only take that precaution where “science shows there is a higher potential of risk,” like in classes that require singing, playing a musical instrument or dancing, according to Lambrini Lukidis, Columbia’s associate vice president for strategic communications.

“Based on the expertise of epidemiologists and available guidance, the college has implemented proven safety precautions that have remained the constant and best barrier against disease spread,” Lukidis said.

The union is also concerned about the college’s refusal to implement more safety measures because more than 25% of the school’s student body is Black or Latino, groups that have been hit the hardest by the virus.

“Columbia represents many of the most underrepresented communities in the Chicago area,” Vallera said.

“As a union, we won’t sign off on any plan where only some are safe and others don’t even have a choice. It’s just not gonna happen.”

In-person classes are expected to continue while the school and union work on a solution. After the first day of classes, the school reported one new active coronavirus case, according to its online case tracker.