Nudes "Model" Union Label

May 8, 2003 ( - Nude models at a Philadelphia art school, finding working conditions unbearable, have voted to join a union.

The bare models at the Moore College of Art and Design complained of low pay, cold rooms and air thick with paint fumes and charcoal dust. After the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejected the school’s argument that the models are independent contractors, 13 models au naturel will be joining District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, according to an Associated Press report.

“We were at a loss about how to get the schools to pay attention to us,” said Claire Hankins, who led the effort to organize artists’ models at the college. Hankins, who has modeled unclad for 20 years, wants the all-women’s art school to raise its $11 hourly rate and provide its 40 to 60 models with warm, clean, safe spaces in which to work. The models have said that disrobing for art school classes is hard work that requires them to hold a pose for long periods under sometimes difficult conditions. The studios at Moore and other art schools often lack private changing areas, adequate heaters and outside air, Hankins said.

The NLRB agreed, although the board found that only 13 models at the school had worked enough hours to vote on whether to join the local. Hankins said seven of the 13 attended Wednesday’s meeting and all voted to unionize.

However, the local wants to organize the movement to the approximately 200 models who pose for art classes in the Philadelphia region. Gary Kapanowski, a District 47 organizer, said he does not know of any other school in the country where nude models have organized, though he hopes that will change. “The labor movement needs to reach out to constituencies beyond the normal groups,” he said.

However, at least area one model, Cheryl Breese, does not support efforts to unionize her fellow art class models. Breese, who is raising two teenagers and working on a college degree, made just $12,000 last year, but worries she would lose flexibility if the jobs were unionized. “Most of us go into this job because of the freedom it presents,” said Breese, who does not work at Moore.