A dinosaur.
The California Academy of Sciences museum. Photo by Superchilum.

By a 210-63 vote, workers at the California Academy of Sciences voted overwhelmingly to form a union today, following a three-month organizing effort that saw pushback from the museum’s management.

The union, CalAcademy Workers United, will represent over 350 scientists, educators and floor staff of the museum’s 500-odd workers; the rest are either supervisors or contractors. Of eligible workers, 77 percent voted in the election, according to the union, and 77 percent of those voting said “yes” to the union.

“I’m really happy and proud of all of the hard work of all of my colleagues who made this happen,” said Marie Angel, a curatorial assistant in the geology collection and organizing committee member of the union. “I’m looking forward to electing our contract bargaining team and starting contract negotiations in the next few months.”

Angel and dozens of other Cal Academy workers celebrated the news at an after-work party in Golden Gate Park, expecting a wholesale victory after months of underground organizing by workers.

Two people with paper
Victoria Langlands and Ian Hart from the organizing committee. They were election observers at the SEIU 1021 office. July 21, 2023. Image courtesy of the organizing committee.

The unionization effort first went public in late March. The drive gained attention again in May, when management at the museum refused to voluntarily recognize the union, which would have served as a shortcut to official recognition. A formal election followed, and the results were announced today. 

In the past month, the National Labor Relations Board, which conducted the election, delivered ballots to workers and collected their votes, which were counted remotely starting at 2 p.m. today.

“Reflecting back on this whole process, we felt like it was the right thing for the staff at the academy, back in December 2021,” said Clea Matson, a program manager in education and a member of the organizing committee. “We weren’t able to talk to every single person. But I hope that everyone who voted really felt this is something that we’re all going to do together … figuring out what we want this union to be like.”

The union will be affiliated with SEIU 1021, which represents a number of workers at local museums, including the de Young Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Asian Art Museum and the Exploratorium. 

Scott D. Sampson, the executive director of the Cal Academy, in a statement, said, “We fully respect this democratic decision and remain committed to ensuring the Academy is a positive, equitable workplace that supports its employees. We look forward to working with our employees to reach a collective bargaining agreement as quickly as possible.”

“I’m thrilled that the workers have organized, and can see a future with dignity, respect, and better wages,” said Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who represents District 7, which includes the museum. Melgar has been supportive of the union drive, and sent a letter to the Cal Academy’s management, urging them to bargain in good faith.

The nascent union hopes to move the contract bargaining process forward in the next few months, according to Melissa Clark, lead organizer of SEIU 1021. They will bargain as a “wall-to-wall unit,” which will include all eligible employees at the museum, rather than being split up by job type.

A group photo
Workers celebrated the news at an after-work party. July 21, 2023. Image courtesy of the organizing committee.

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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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