Don’t Vote Yes Out of Fear!: An Open Letter to UAW 2865 Members

Recently, the UAW statewide leadership (perhaps recognizing that their claims that the tentative agreement is an “amazing contract” are failing to convince the membership) has begun to threaten that a NO vote could have a terrible cost.  The leadership warns members that, if the tentative agreement is rejected, UC can choose to impose a contract on members that may take away the few gains that have been won so far in this negotiation.  The message from UAW leadership to members is clear and intentionally alarming: “Vote yes or we could lose everything!”

But is this true?  Can UC impose a worse contract on us if we reject this one?

The UAW leadership notes that “there is NO GUARANTEE, if UC were to agree to resume bargaining, that the current agreement would serve as a starting point, let alone that after months or even years, of ‘impasse’ or protracted bargaining, we would preserve the gains we have already made.”

This is a misleading statement intended to lead you to vote “yes” out of fear.

Under the California Public Employee Relations Act, implementation can only occur after an employer has proposed their “last, best, and final offer” and then declares impasse after the union rejects that offer.  Then if an employer decides to implement, they can only implement the last offer proposed.  They cannot implement something worse than that.  And keep in mind they can only implement after they have declared “impasse.”

Furthermore, regressive bargaining constitutes an unfair labor practice; if the university, having made a proposal, comes back to the table with a worse proposal, this is regressive bargaining. If the University engages in an unfair practice of this sort, the Union can file charges and, if need be, go on strike over them.  (Anyone who wants a third-party to validate this can call the PERB Regional Office in Los Angeles at 818-551-2822.)

Not only is there no legal basis for us to lose benefits if we reject the tentative agreement, but there is a clear and compelling reason why a rejection of the tentative agreement can actually increase our strength in bargaining with the UC.

The UAW leadership claims that a NO vote won’t force UC to return to the table.  We think this claim clearly demonstrates the sense of helplessness that produced the tentative agreement in the first place.  It’s not just that the leadership is trying to scare the membership, but that they accepted the agreement because they themselves are scared of the UC.  And perhaps they should be, considering that the best pressure the UAW leadership organized during the “contract campaign” was a bunch of signatures on a novelty-sized report card (that, on most campuses, was quietly handed over to low-level administrative staff without any media presence).

But we don’t need to fear the UC and we don’t need to settle for the ineffective organizing conducted by the UAW leadership to date.  A NO vote does not just send the Bargaining Team back to the table to continue their timid style of “negotiation.”  Rather, a NO vote demands that they return to the table as part of an actual contract campaign—a mobilization of rank-and-file members, organized by rank-and-file members, backed by a real threat of a strike.  And while UC may not immediately return to the table, we guarantee they’ll show up once it becomes clear that our members can shut down instruction across the system if we need to.  This is the power that a NO vote, combined with a REAL strike threat, gives to us.

Over the past week, we have begun to make our case to UAW members that the tentative agreement represents a failure on the part of UAW leadership to represent us effectively—a failure they are attempting to conceal through ominous invocations of the UC’s power.  But our members should not be frightened: our collective strength when we are organized is enough to win a strong new contract.  Let us begin that organizing by voting NO tomorrow.

Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, Santa Cruz