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By Zack Haber
The staff union at California College of the Arts (CCA), a small private college founded in 1907, engaged in a four-day strike and protest. They accuse the school of unfair labor practices, including blocking contract negotiations in an effort to withhold pay raises and benefits.
“We now have a unionized workplace,” said SEIU Local 1021 President Matt Kennedy, who worked in the college’s technical department for 10 years. “The ACC needs to recognize that. It takes forever to reach an agreement because they are not.
The protests included rallies, classes, group art projects and daily pickets that began Feb. 8 and ends Feb. 12. The actions are taking place on the school’s campus in San Francisco every day except Wednesday, when the protest moved to the school. Oakland campuses. About 200 people, including trade unionists and their sympathizers, showed up at the picket lines every day.
In interviews with this reporter, Kennedy, along with three other current or former CCA workers, all accused the school of negotiating in bad faith.
“The ACC is filibustering and dragging their feet,” said Kēhau Lyons, an educational adviser who has worked at the ACC for about two and a half years and who observed the negotiation sessions. “Management just doesn’t want this to be over.”
CCA staff successfully voted to unionize with SEIU 1021 in April 2019. Since then, staff members say they have received no raises outside of those required by law. While contract negotiations began in October 2019, CCA staff are still working without a union contract. A Bloomberg Law study based on data from the National Labor Relations Board shows that between 2004 and the first half of 2021, the average time it took for employers and unions to agree on a first contract was one just over a year and a month. Negotiations between the union and the CCA have so far lasted more than two years and four months.
In an email, ACC communications director Daniel Owens-Hill disagreed with staff who accused the college of stalling negotiations.
“The CCA remains ready and willing to negotiate as often as necessary to reach a fair and mutually beneficial collective agreement,” Owens-Hill wrote. “The college has a comprehensive proposal on the table that provides salary increases for our valued staff while maintaining our continued commitment to student financial aid and a financially sustainable future.”
On September 27 of last year, National Labor Relations Board Regional Director Valerie Hardy-Mahoney sided with the union in filing a complaint and Notice of Hearing stating that the ACC had “failed and refused to bargain collectively and in good faith with the union”. In the same document, she also proposed new negotiating guidelines that the college should follow in the future.
The ACC is currently offering a 2% wage increase to all union staff. The workers interviewed for this article consider this increase insufficient and underlined that their most important demand during the negotiations was to “raise the floor” of staff salaries. To pay for the expenses necessary to live in the Bay Area, staff said they wanted a minimum wage of $55,000. Kennedy said payroll records show that 40% of CCA staff earn less than $55,000 a year and 10% earn between $36,000 and $45,000. For many workers, the 2% increase would not be enough to meet the minimum wage.
CCA workers point to salaries at the administrative level, which they consider excessively high, and wonder why the school does not pay its lowest-paid workers more. The school’s 2020 990 file shows four administrators earned well over $270,000 in 2019. President Stephen Beal earned a base salary of over $580,000 while working 37.5 hours a week. Such a salary is more than $150,000 higher than that of the current mayor of San Francisco and the president of the United States. The 990 also estimates that Beal earned more than $100,000 in addition to his base salary in “other compensation from the organization and related organizations.”
In April 2020, Beal’s base salary was reduced by 25%, while the senior vice president’s was reduced by 10% and the vice president’s was reduced by 5%.
Members of the CCA staff union say they have noticed a high turnover rate which they attribute to the fact that their colleagues do not receive a high enough salary. Emails from the CCA’s human resources department show that since August 19 members of the staff union have stopped working at the school, representing around 15% of the union’s total membership.
Randy Nakamura has taught as an auxiliary in the CCA Graduate Design Program for the past six years and is also part of the CCA Auxiliary Union bargaining unit. CCA’s deputies’ union is separate from the staff union, but Nakamura and other deputies are also trying to make a contract with CCA.
Nakamura says that since the CCA’s auxiliary union contract expired in June 2020, his and his fellow union members’ experiences negotiating to renew their contract have been similar to the staff union’s efforts to get the CCA to accept a first. contract.
“CCA took every opportunity not to negotiate with us,” Nakamura said. “Sometimes they make us wait an hour and a half in a three-hour negotiation session just to talk.”
After a year and a half of negotiations, the assistant union has not yet been able to renew its contract with the CCA. Seeing themselves in a struggle similar to that of the staff union, more than 100 deputy members of the CCA union supported the CCA staff union by going on sympathy strikes and not teaching classes during the strike.
Some deputies also joined staff on the picket line. Additionally, members of the CCA student union and other CCA students who sympathize with the staff strike have criticized CCA’s 2% wage increase offer as being too low and picketing and unhelpful. not attending classes to show their support.
“Working conditions for staff and assistants are learning conditions for students,” the CCA student union wrote on a recent Instagram post. “As students, we fully benefit from union bargaining and a fair contract for our beloved staff.”
CCA faculty who are tenured or in the process of becoming tenured are not part of the staff union and have separate independent contracts. But they also showed their support.
“We are unwilling to cross the picket line,” reads a letter of support released Feb. 7 that 99 of those faculty members have signed. “[We] instead, find ways to express peaceful solidarity during the strike, including by engaging in strike-related training and educational activities.
Through its spokesperson, David Owens-Hill, the CCA criticized the strike.
“At a time when we are making rapid progress in negotiations and have reached agreement on so many points, a strike does not benefit anyone,” Owens-Hill wrote in an email, “neither our staff nor our faculty, and certainly not to our students. , who have just resumed fully in-person classes for the first time in nearly two years.
Members of the CCA staff union disagree with Owens-Hill.
“It’s important to show in our strike that the ACC can’t get away with this,” SEIU’s Kennedy said. “Better working conditions and pay mean better learning conditions, and the college must make this a priority. But they are not.