Is labor strife the new normal in California higher education as 2021 ends?
After UC sidestepped two worker strikes recently, 97 percent of staff at the California College of Arts (CCA) campuses in Oakland and San Francisco voted earlier this month to authorize their contract negotiating team to call a strike.
The slow pace of contract talks that began in fall 2019 drove the rank-and-file strike vote, according to the Service Employees International Union Local 1021.
The union represents 110 CCA workers, one of whom is Piper Alldredge. She has worked as a model making/fabrication studio manager at CCA for the past four years, and is on the contract bargaining team.
“Since negotiations began in late 2019, CCA and SEIU Local 1021 bargaining teams have met more than 25 times.” — David Owens-Hill
“We’ve been negotiating with CCA for two years,” she says. “We just want a fair contract.” The union does not have its first contract with CCA.
According to SEIU Local 1021, CCA is foot-dragging contract talks over improved pay and labor conditions such as job security. “Meanwhile, 40% of CCA staff make less than $55,000, what’s been defined as the minimum “self-sufficiency wage” needed to live in the Bay Area,” a union statement reads. The SF Bay Area has one of the highest priced rent markets in the U.S.
CCA Film Studio Manager Brian Woods is, along with Alldredge, a member of the staff bargaining team. CCA “hasn’t responded to any of our economic proposals, which are our top priority,” according to him. “There’s not even an acknowledgement that we’ve even submitted these–there’s been no response at all.”
Against this backdrop, Census Bureau data reveals a trend of national economic distress. “Median household income (half above and half below) was $67,521 in 2020, a decrease of 2.9 percent from the 2019 median of $69,560. This is the first statistically significant decline in median household income since 2011.”
David Owens-Hill is a spokesperson for the CCA. “Since negotiations began in late 2019, CCA and SEIU Local 1021 bargaining teams have met more than 25 times,” he says, “and negotiations are currently active. Progress has continued despite the disruptions of the pandemic.” According to him, staying the course of current labor-management talks is a prudent path to pursue for a first contract with SEIU Local 1021.
“Here’s why this is happening, how it affects you, and what you can do to support them.” — Student flyer
“It is the college’s position that bargaining is best done at the negotiating table,” Owens-Hill says, “and we are confident that the agreement we have reached on many proposals, as well as the progress on other items, will lead to a fair, mutually beneficial first collective bargaining agreement between CCA and its represented staff.”
On Sept. 27, the National Labor Relations Board issued an unfair labor charge against CCA for making unilateral changes to working conditions, i.e., pandemic-layoffs and rehires. One SEIU 1021 member involved on that front is Matt Kennedy, a nine-year CCA employee and chapter president. He experienced a one-year furlough that ended with a return to the CCA payroll, but in a new position with lower pay.
In one sense, the SEIU 1021 strike authorization vote is moving the CCA employer-employee dispute to the court of public opinion and away from the negotiating table. To this end, SEIU 1021 in part is using social media to rally support for CCA workers. On Twitter, the union is urging supporters to email CCA management to negotiate in good faith for a new contract that includes prioritizing bread-and-butter economic proposals.
In addition, CCA student support for the strike authorization vote is evident on campus. A student flyer on the labor dispute that is circulating now reads: “Here’s why this is happening, how it affects you, and what you can do to support them.” Part of the message calls for students to write emails in support of SEIU 1021 workers to CCA President Stephen Beal and Provost Tammy Rae Carland.
“I know that the path to better student outcomes includes a high quality and experienced workforce.” — Mia Bonta
SF Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton and Supervisor Dean Preston are supportive of CCA staff, according to Jennie Smith-Camejo of SEIU Local 1021. SEIU 1021 workers at CCA also have support from an elected official at the state Capitol.
Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda) represents a large part of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro.
“I stand in solidarity with the staff at CCA,” she says, “who authorized a strike in an effort to secure living wages and job security, especially with CCA’s intended plans to close its Oakland campus, raising questions of access for its students commuting from the East Bay. As a longtime advocate for students and a former school board member, I know that the path to better student outcomes includes a high quality and experienced workforce.”
Currently, SEIU 1021 does not have a strike fund for CCA workers if they walk off the job to win a first contract. It is unclear if alternate financial sources such as a GoFundMe campaign for strikers is a viable option for sustaining them. This makes it more rather than less likely that if a strike does occur, it would be of a shorter versus longer duration.
Editor’s Note: Seth Sandronsky reports regularly for Capitol Weekly. Contact him at email@example.com.