California College of the Arts Staff, Adjuncts, and Students Lead Powerful ULP Strike
Classes were shut down and community support ran high.
Last week, staff at California College of the Arts (CCA) executed a powerful four-day unfair labor practice (ULP) strike after nearly 2.5 years of trying to negotiate a first contract since they formed their union with SEIU 1021 in 2019. CCA administration’s bargaining team, led by notorious union-busting lawyer Mike Vartain, has stalled, dragged its feet, and done everything possible to avoid addressing workers’ primary concerns: a living wage and basic job security.
With the help of strong organizing among the adjunct union, who organized their union with SEIU 1021 in 2014 and whose own first contract has been expired since June 2020 for similar reasons, the strike effectively shut down classrooms, studios, and labs at CCA from Tuesday through Friday of last week.
“We’re a brand-new union and going on strike to get your first contract isn’t something that normally happens. So this is a really powerful and transformative thing that we’re taking part in,” Matt Kennedy, the CCA chapter president, told KQED. “I think that it’s really not just going to change things at CCA, but I think it’s going to change how a lot of workers think about their jobs and their working conditions in relation to their living conditions.”
Hundreds of workers, adjunct faculty, students, ranked faculty, SEIU 1021 members and officers, and other community supporters showed up on the picket lines throughout the week to participate in marches, chants, rallies, and to publicly urge CCA administration to do better. Students and alumni have sent hundreds of emails to administration urging them to settle a fair contract immediately. A GoFundMe strike fund set up by CCA staff brought in more than $20,000 within just a little over a week.
“[Administration] like[s] to brag that they’ve done 30 bargaining sessions in two years,” Brian Woods, a film studio manager for CCA and a member of the staff bargaining team, told the San Francisco Examiner. “That amounts to barely one a month and that’s not very productive. That’s the rhetoric they’re sending out; ‘Bargaining is going great. We’re making progress!’ They’ve made almost no progress. They didn’t respond to our financial compensation proposal for two years after we gave it to them.”
Students had a lot to say at the rallies as well.
“Every year, when I’ve had to take out loans for this school, I cry because I know I’m going so deep into debt that I’m never going to leave it. They give us bulls**t, they gaslight us, they don’t tell us what’s going on, they’re keeping us in the dark, and they’re using us as students to fight back against the staff strike,” said Reno Nevada, a senior in animation, at Thursday’s speak-out on the picket line in San Francisco. “Tell me why I’m taking out money to pay for this school–especially during the two years of COVID when we had no access to the studios–why am I paying the same amount during Zoom school if I don’t have access to the campus or the labs? I thought that money was going to the teachers, but then I found out they’re not getting any of it. They’re living on bare minimum wage, not even. They have to have multiple jobs, just like me. How is that right? Our administration is sitting pretty and comfortable at the top while we’re here starving, living paycheck to paycheck.”
At least 15 local elected leaders, including nine of the eleven members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Assemblymember Mia Bonta, have publicly urged CCA’s administration to settle a fair contract with staff and adjunct faculty. SF Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, and Oakland City Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao have all joined rallies last week.
“We are 100% united behind you. The fact that folks have been negotiating for two years in good faith and have yet to be offered a fair contract—shame on you, CCA. Shame on you. When we have people in our city educating our young people and you are paying them poverty wages, that affects all of us. That is unacceptable,” said Supervisor Matt Haney on Tuesday to cheers from the strikers.
SEIU 1021 has agreed to enter federal mediation with CCA and has provided dates for mediation sessions for both the staff and adjunct union negotiations. As of the writing of this story, CCA has not yet responded.