SEIU 1021

California College of the Arts students walk out in protest of staff layoffs
The CCA Student Union organized the walkout and blackout in support of the CCA Staff Union


A year ago, staff at California College of the Arts (CCA) went on a four-day strike in protest of the administration’s illegal labor practices, pushing for a first contract that took over two years (and that strike) to secure. Last month, CCA administration announced their intention to lay off 8-10% of frontline staff in response to lower than expected enrollment – even as they continue to pay their president, Stephen Beal, over $580,000 – more than any other private university president in the Bay Area with the exception of Stanford.

CCA students, outraged that their extremely high and rising tuition and fees are being directed to top-heavy administration and real estate deals rather than to keeping their studios, labs, and other student spaces staffed, took matters into their own hands. The CCA Student Union organized a walkout last Thursday, April 27, hosting and participating in a variety of protest-themed art activities, from needlepoint to screen-printing union T-shirts, in front of the school throughout the day.

Staff and faculty joined them for a speak-out rally at 12 PM. Students, faculty, and staff all took to the mic to condemn CCA administration’s prioritization of buildings and administration over student services, programs, and the staff and faculty who make CCA a school that students want to attend. Their rallying cry was “Chop from the top!”

SF Supervisor Dean Preston (D5) joined the speak-out and vowed to fight the layoffs.

“I stand in solidarity with our students. They are paying top dollar for their education at CCA, with tuition and housing costs set to increase next year, yet, we’re facing budget cuts and layoffs that will negatively impact the student experience,” said Amber Bales, senior library technician and CCA union secretary. “We need to stand together as a community to demand financial transparency and prevent CCA from becoming the next Maryland Institute College of Art or San Francisco Art Institute.”

“I have spent the last year looking into what has been going wrong at CCA and comparing what students, staff, and faculty have to say to what administration is showing on the [student] portal,” said graduating senior Mae Ware. “It is beyond disheartening to watch as this school that I once loved begins to crumble due to decisions administrators are making with the money students give them. I think that there should be a ‘chop from the top’ where administrators take a pay cut rather than laying off student-supporting staff. This campus is already so understaffed.”

“We get it. The school borrowed a lot of money. They are struggling to make required payments. Staff, students, and adjunct faculty are done paying the price for their bad bets,” said Elizabeth Travelslight, an adjunct professor of visual studies and visual critical studies at CCA and the CCA Union political coordinator. “If budget cuts need to be made, we encourage them to look at balancing the budget by minimizing the growing gap between the school’s highest and lowest paid employees. We encourage CCA’s trustees to take some initiative and model a culture of philanthropy that supports the PEOPLE that make our students’ learning community possible.”

Watch the speak-out on SEIU 1021’s Facebook page here.

Watch the interview with student organizer Mae Ware on KTVU Fox 2 News here.