California College of Arts Strike Ends after Four Days Without Resolution

in by

California College of the Arts’ unionized staff ended a four-day strike in February without an agreement with the school’s administration.

The walkout was never intended to be indefinite, said Jennie Smith-Camejo, a spokeswoman with the Service Employees International Union Local Number 1021.

The strike began February 8 and ended on February 11, with daily picket lines from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the college’s 1111 Eighth Street campus or the school’s Oakland site. Some 120 of CCA’s 280 workers participated. 

In 2019, 74 percent of CCA’s staff voted to join SEIU Local 1021.  Since then, the college’s administration and the union have failed to conclude an agreement. 

The union accuses the school of unfair labor practices, as the View reported last month, asserting that administrators unilaterally changed working conditions, adding new positions without negotiating with the union, which filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last fall. 

In spring 2020, CCA staff union president Matt Kennedy was furloughed and told he could return with lower pay.

“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,” Kennedy stated in an SEIU Local 1021 news release. “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.”

Smith-Camejo said she hoped that “the strike would bring them back to the table.” She added that the union reserves the right to call a strike again. Ninety-seven percent of unionized staff voted in December to approve the walkout.

Adjunct faculty and students joined the picket lines in sympathy and to air their own grievances against the school’s administration. One was Benjamin Chun, a student who spoke at a rally at the Oakland campus.

“I got here on a full ride from a community college. I’ve lived on the streets since I was 13 years old,” said Chun. “This school promised me glory and riches. Then a year after I got here, at the beginning of COVID, they said get out of the dorms, and they cut my housing. When I tried complaining about it, they threatened me with expulsion. I’m the evidence of the financial mishandling of this school. For the first year I was kicked out, I was living on the street.”

The strike garnered the support of at least 15 local elected officials, including District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, San Francisco Board of Supervisors president, who represents the area in which CCA’s campus is located. Walton didn’t respond to a request for comment but issued a brief public statement that “we stand with the staff and faculty at California College of the Arts!”

During a rally at the San Francisco campus, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney said, “we are 100 percent 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,” Haney was quoted in the news release. “Shame on you.”

The strikers raised more than $20,000 through a GoFundMe campaign.

David Owens-Hill, CCA’s director of communications, told the View that “the college has called on the union to show respect for the process and continue our progress by coming back to the negotiating table. CCA remains ready and willing to negotiate as frequently as needed to achieve a fair and mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreement with our unionized staff. The college has a comprehensive proposal on the table that provides wage increases for our valued staff while also maintaining our ongoing commitment to student financial aid and a financially sustainable future for the college.”

He also said that students, just returning to classes as the COVID-19 pandemic wans, were hurt by a strike.

“At a time when we are making rapid progress in negotiations and have reached agreement on so many items, a strike benefits no one; not our staff, not our faculty, and certainly not our students, who have just returned to fully in-person classes for the first time in nearly two years,” he stated. “Our goal is to work together to reach an agreement as quickly as possible and return everyone’s full energy and focus to our core mission of educating students. We made significant progress on a collective bargaining agreement before SEIU’s negotiating team and membership began to strike, and we’re ready to get back to the negotiating table to reach a fair and mutually beneficial agreement with our unionized staff so that we can return everyone’s full energy and focus on our core mission of educating our students.”