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California College of the Arts Staff Elect Union by Wide Margin

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Donald Smith, a 20-year California College of the Arts libraries employee, supports the staff union. (Sam Lefebvre/KQED)

Staff at California College of the Arts staff voted Monday to elect Service Employees International Union’s representation in collective bargaining, joining the art school’s adjunct faculty as members of Local 1021.

“YES to end chronic understaffing and high staff turnover,” read an Instagram post from @sfoakunite, an account run by the staff’s organizing committee. “YES to supporting students!”

After months organizing, staff voted 80 in favor and 15 against the union, with 28 contested ballots cast by employees whose eligibility for representation the administration challenged. (Contested ballots are only counted to break ties.) According to the organizing committee, 164 staffers are eligible for representation.

“CCA will be better when the faces that represent it are valued and embraced,” said Brian Woods, a six-year employee and member of the organizing committee. “All of the long-term workers are why I work at CCA, and they deserve security in their jobs and a fair shake in the midst of these massive changes.”

As KQED reported Thursday, California College of the Arts’ plan to consolidate campuses in San Francisco largely motivated the union effort, with staff worried about its effect on job security. Organizers believe unionizing will provide leverage with school administration as the workplace transforms.


Echoing broader concerns in the arts and higher-education sectors, staff believe representation will help win raises as cost-of-living, namely housing and commuting costs, outpaces wage growth in the Bay Area. Organizers also stressed that unionizing benefits students through stabilizing the workforce.

“We are grateful that a large percentage of the voters exercised their democratic rights, which is the outcome that was of primary importance to the college,” CCA said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with staff to make CCA an excellent learning environment for our students and the community.”

The administration has claimed neutrality towards the staff unionizing, but distributed a document casting doubts on its benefits. Organizers said leadership sowed confusion about union eligibility in an attempt to undermine the effort.

After nearly three years organizing, SEIU helped adjunct faculty ratify their first union contract in 2017.

Founded in Berkeley in 1907, California College of the Arts enrolls some 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students of art, architecture and design and operates the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts.

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