Unionized Workers at the Art Institute of Chicago Have Ratified a ‘Landmark’ First Contract, Ending 15 Months of Negotiations


After 15 months of negotiations, employees at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) have ratified their first union contract.  

As part of the four-year agreement, the more than 500 workers that belong to the bargaining unit will receive salary bumps between 12.25 and 16.25 percent, with lower-paid employees receiving higher increases. The deal raises the required minimum wage to $17 an hour now, and $18 in 2025. Employees remain eligible for additional raises based on merit. 

The agreement also requires the museum and school to post job openings internally and grant automatic interviews to qualified in-house applicants. In the event of layoffs, affected employees must be given 21 days advance notice.  

“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,” said Alexandra Holt, AIC’s executive vice president for finance and administration, in a statement.  

“This process,” she added, “has been an important step in building the future of our institution and we are so pleased to all move forward together.” 

Staff of AIC and SAIC have ratified our first union contract! Since last Tuesday, hundreds of our coworkers attended ratification meetings to learn the details of our tentative agreement and to cast a vote. pic.twitter.com/wOs7xAvvqY

— Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (@AICWUtweets) August 15, 2023

Citing issues of pay equity, job security, and their employers’ handling of the pandemic, workers at AIC and SAIC moved to unionize with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in January 2022. Contract negotiations began in May 2022 and continued on until July 31 this year, when a tentative agreement was reached.  

When it formed, Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU) was the first major art institution bargaining unit in the city. Since then, employees at the Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Newberry Library, and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum have all voted to unionize with AFSCME Council 31. 

“AIC and SAIC staff made history when they formed the first major museum union in Chicago. Now they’ve secured a landmark union contract that raises pay, creates new career opportunities, keeps health care affordable and protects workers’ rights on the job,” said AFSCME Council 31 executive director Roberta Lynch. “By coming together, AIC and SAIC employees are improving their working lives and blazing the trail for other cultural workers in Chicago and beyond.” 

AICWU’s efforts represent a larger trend among employees at U.S. museums who have, in recent years, organized to combat industry-wide concerns around pay gaps, health care, and workplace diversity. Just last week, staffers at the Guggenheim ratified their first union contract, while Whitney workers approved their first deal in March. 


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