On December 6 and 7 2021, a supermajority of California College of the Arts staff voted 97% YES to authorize a strike. CCA Staff showed up in force to make their voices heard, many coming to campus to vote in person even though they are currently working remotely. More than 2 years of dysfunction, incompetence, and abuse in contract negotiations led up to this serious choice. In fall 2019, before organizing informational pickets, shutting down a major Oakland street, painting a mural in downtown SF, and researching CCA’s financial situation, we proposed a complete package of contract proposals. Our vote to authorize a strike is the culmination of many years organizing with our coworkers, our adjunct faculty colleagues, and with CCA students. One important component of a forceful strike threat is showing we can support each other through our sacrifice of pay with a mutual aid fund. We are here asking for broad community support for good union jobs in the arts.
On September 27, 2021 the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against CCA in response to an unfair labor practice charge we filed. In the summer of 2021, when bringing back workers who endured over a year of furlough, CCA eliminated the positions of 2 workers, offered one a 9.5 month position instead of 12 month, put these two long term employees back on probation, and put one in a lower paid position. Unilateral changes to our working conditions are par for the course at CCA, where the attitude and actions of management have not meaningfully changed since we democratically made the choice to unionize. Our vote to authorize a strike says: We will no longer wait for change. We demand basic dignity and respect at work. We demand a voice in the decisions that impact our lives.
Since our powerful strike vote in December 2021, we have met with CCA a handful of times. They have finally started to bring counter proposals to the table, however they have not moved meaningfully on our core issues: raising the minimum wage at CCA to a living wage, just management rights language, and real pathways to promotion. During negotiations, CCA has employed a number of gaslighting and delay tactics while claiming publicly that they believe ‘negotiations should happen at the table.’ Frankly, actions speak louder than words, and CCA’s actions are typical union busting. It’s been 2 years since we proposed a comprehensive wage scale that would raise the minimum wage at CCA to a self-sufficiency wage for the Bay Area, $55k. About ⅓ of union staff at the college make less than this amount, and the lowest pay at CCA is less than $37,000. Yet CCA’s response is to propose a minimal raise across the board, that does not keep pace with undelivered cost of living raises. Instead of raising wages for the lowest paid workers at CCA, the school’s administration is choosing to pay their union busting lawyer enormous sums every year–$275k in 2020 alone.
In the 2-½ years since our vote to unionize, over 40% of staff has turned over. This means that in a student’s 4-5 years at CCA, most of the union-eligible, frontline staff likely changes. The effect on students is devastating: delayed financial aid disbursements, facilities and technology assistance requests that never get answered, tools and equipment offline indefinitely, insufficient access to counseling services, just to name a few. This is why our working conditions are student learning conditions.
As we work to galvanize faculty and student support for our strike, we also need to raise funds to support all participants through a work stoppage. Our coworkers’ and allies’ primary concern when we discussed the possibility of striking was how to cover their expenses if they lose income while participating in the strike. While many of us are willing to forgo income in order to raise the alarm, we must take care of our most vulnerable coworkers, faculty members, and student supporters. This strike fund will be dispensed through the SF Labor Council to any worker at CCA who sacrifices their income in order to support our struggle for a fair labor contract. We are calling on our community to help set a precedent for labor justice at higher education and arts institutions nationwide by donating to our strike fund. Our strike would be the first at a private arts college in the US in a decade, and the first ever at a private college in California, and with your help will put institutions who traffic in labor exploitation on notice.