On Eve of César Chávez Day, California Academy of Sciences Workers Announce They Are Forming a Union
After voluntary recognition from the employer or a union election, Cal Academy Workers United will join the De Young, the Exploratorium, the Asian Art Museum, and the Legion of Honor as a chapter of SEIU Local 1021
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Contact: Jennie Smith-Camejo, firstname.lastname@example.org, (510) 710-0201
San Francisco: Thursday, on the eve of the holiday celebrating beloved labor organizer César Chávez, with the noontime sun beaming down after dreary days of rain and wind, dozens of California Academy of Sciences workers convened in the Music Concourse at Golden Gate Park with a very important announcement. “The Cal Academy Workers United union has been on its way for a long time. It’s a union of friends, peers, coworkers, who all just want to look out for each other and see what we can do to make our lives a little better working at the Academy of Sciences,” said Richie Lipton, who has worked in different capacities for the Academy for almost 14 years, currently in Night Life, as he opened the public announcement event.
The eight members of the Cal Academy Workers United organizing committee – all Academy employees in various departments who have been at the helm of the unionizing effort – came to the Music Concourse stage one after the other to share their personal experiences working at the Academy and why forming a union is important to them. While their stories were different, a common theme was their passion for the work they do and the Academy’s mission – and a desire to make it an even better place to work, one fully aligned with its mission to “regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration.”
“I’m really proud of the work I do supporting K-12 teachers in California and beyond, and that we get to bring those teachers to this place, here, to engage with the exhibits, floor staff, scientists, and other educators,” said Clea Matson, who has worked in the education department for 8.5 years. “They feel welcomed to come and learn in the Academy, and that supports them to see themselves as belonging in science and they pass that on to their students. All of that is possible—we can bring them here to this place and give them that feeling because of all of you, because of all of us. In all the conversations I’ve had over the past few months, I’ve heard consistently about passion and value for the work that we do for this place and the Academy’s mission and a desire to make the Academy better because you want to continue your work here. My team has been impacted by lack of transparency around institutional decisions that affect our work; by unclear, unfair, or nonexistent promotion pathways and compensation structures; and layoff decisions that ignored expertise, seniority, and how the remaining staff would continue our work. Forming a union will allow us to have a voice in decision making, leading to a more supportive, transparent, and equitable Academy.”
“I was unfortunately laid off due to covid, but I found my way back as a rehire about two years ago,” said Victoria Langlands, who works in the experience engineering department. “The entire layoff process for me really lacked clear communication from the senior leadership team. At a time when there were so many unknowns in the world, to not know where you stood with your job really didn’t feel great. It was a tough time for me. I think forming a union here would ensure a seat at the table when those tough decisions need to happen, and there wouldn’t be any more of these unilateral decisions made without any staff input.”
“Our priorities need shifting,” said Greg Rotter, an interactive web developer who has worked at the Academy since it opened in its current location in 2008. “The corporate mentality that seems to have a grip on the Academy needs to be addressed, and we’re done asking politely for a seat at the table. We’ve been doing that since I’ve been here, and it’s not happening. This is how to make it happen. We’re going to take our seat at the table. We deserve it.”
Currently, the organizing committee and other supportive workers are talking to their colleagues about the union effort and collecting union authorization cards. After filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, a union election can be held. However, Cal Academy of Sciences management could choose to voluntarily recognize the union with cards signed by a majority of eligible employees – which San Francisco District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, who spoke at the event, encouraged them to do.
“On your behalf, I’m going to make this very loud, to tell the Academy of Sciences management to embrace this,” said Supervisor Chan from the stage to loud applause. “It is about time. You have a partner in me. I’m on this journey with you. We’re going to go on this journey together.”
For more information, visit calacademyworkersunited.org. You can watch the event on Facebook Live here.
SEIU Local 1021 represents nearly 60,000 employees in local governments, non-profit agencies, health care programs, and schools throughout Northern California, including seven private colleges and numerous community colleges. SEIU Local 1021 is a diverse, member-driven organization with members who work to make our cities, schools, colleges, counties, and special districts safe and healthy places to live and raise our families.