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Creative Growth Workers Unionize, Announce Rally

by Creative Growth United
ACTION ALERT: Solidarity Rally on Saturday, April 6, 12pm outside SFMOMA (151 3rd Street) coinciding with the public opening of "Creative Growth: The House that Art Built."
ACTION ALERT: Solidarity Rally on Saturday, April 6, 12pm outside SFMOMA (151 3rd Street) coinciding with the public opening of "Creative...
OAKLAND, CA — On the organization’s 50th anniversary, 100 percent of eligible workers at Creative Growth, the art studio and gallery for artists with developmental disabilities, have come together to form a union, in affiliation with AFSCME Council 57, as Creative Growth United.

On Tuesday, Creative Growth United (CGU) members delivered a letter to interim executive director Tom di Maria and the Creative Growth Board of Trustees asking for voluntary recognition of the new union and for management to begin bargaining a first contract.

The new union, announced just weeks after the launch of Oakland Museum of California Workers United, would cover some 34 workers and include art facilitators and instructors, program coordinators, gallery staff, and other direct-service providers at Creative Growth.

“Forming a union will help ensure more equitable hiring and pay practices, standardized benefits, greater protections, safer working conditions, and improved procedures around transparency and accountability,” reads the CGU letter requesting voluntary recognition.

“Through a union, we will achieve a more just, sustainable, and person-centered organization.”

100 percent of eligible workers have signed AFSCME Council 57 union authorization cards.

On Saturday, April 6, 12pm, Creative Growth United rallies with community allies outside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, welcoming visitors to the anniversary exhibition Creative Growth: The House that Art Built with “We Support Creative Growth United” prints and more.

Creative Growth United invites supporters to attend this Solidarity Rally and milestone exhibition opening, and to sign a community letter urging leadership to voluntarily recognize the union.

“Creative Growth is an important community space for artist participants, staff and the wider community of Oakland,” Ariel Cooper, a studio facilitator and CGU member, said. “That’s why I joined up with CGU. A union will create a more equitable workplace where artist participants and staff are supported in ways that really matter.”

“We want to improve working conditions for all staff, including substitutes and interpreters — in order to better support the artists,” Sam Lefebvre, a studio facilitator and CGU member, said. “To sustainably facilitate their self-determination, we need a living-wage and a collective voice.”

Creative Growth workers formed an Organizing Committee in the summer of 2023, prompted by opaque, inequitable hiring practices; inconsistent and declining wages and benefits; poor treatment of staff with disabilities; an over-reliance on volunteer and low-paid contractor labor; and unilateral decisions by leadership figures with harmful effects on artist-clients in the studio.

In December, 34 workers signed a letter-of-concern to then-executive director Ginger Shulick Porcella.

“Our ability to provide the most person-centered services possible has been tangibly and negatively impacted,” the letter reads. “We must take seriously our commitment to justice, equity, diversity, transparency and inclusion and recognize that our mission begins with the makeup of our staff.”

Di Maria, director emeritus, in January stepped back into the position vacated by Shulick Porcella.

CGU’s organizing is informed by the Disability Justice principles articulated by Sins Invalid, such as interdependence and cross-movement solidarity, recognizing the links between struggles against ableism, capitalism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression and domination.

In this spirit, CGU members recently joined together with workers at local sister organizations NIAD and Creativity Explored to form Progressive Art Studio Staff for a Free Palestine (PASS).

Creative Growth United follows the public launch of Oakland Museum of California Workers United (OMCAWU), marking union campaigns at Oakland’s two largest arts organizations.

OMCAWU and CGU follow arts organizations across the country by unionizing with AFSCME Cultural Workers United (CWU), including the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Please Touch Museum, and Iowa Children’s Museum. Nationwide, AFSCME represents more cultural workers than any other union, including 10,000 museum workers and more than 25,000 library workers.

***

Creative Growth United (CGU): Creative Growth United is a union of art facilitators, program coordinators, gallery staff, and other direct service-providers at Creative Growth, a studio and gallery for artists with developmental disabilities in Oakland, CA. Affiliated with AFSCME Council 57, CGU went public in April, 2024, seeking voluntary recognition from company management.

AFSCME Council 57: AFSCME Council 57 comprises 26 local unions representing 35,000 members throughout Northern California and the Central Valley. Established in 1963, the Council was formed as a progressive, member-driven labor organization dedicated to empowering and securing dignity and respect for workers. We work together to improve wages, benefits and working conditions through organizing, collective bargaining and political action.
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by Creative Growth United
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