By Sara Smith, Grad Student, History, UC Santa Cruz; UAW 2865 Elections Committee Representative

The UAW 2865, the union that represents 12,000 Teaching Assistants, Grad Student Instructors, Readers, and Tutors at the University of California, is extremely centralized.** Nobody can so much as jump without the President authorizing the lifting of our feet off of the ground.

The President has the authority to appoint people to any position within our Union. The appointee stays in their position until the next Vacancy Election. Why bother having an election, when the President can appoint their hand-picked choice?

Most recently, last Friday, February 18th, during the Executive Board meeting of UAW 2865, Christine Petit announced her resignation as president of the Local. Per our bylaws a new president can only be elected in next May’s (2011) triennial election, and not in Vacancy Elections. (edit: this post has been edited to reflect this clarified understanding of the bylaws)

Our bylaws also stipulate that, with the President’s resignation, Daraka Larimore-Hall, a long-time member of the Administration Caucus, as Northern Vice President automatically became President. Now, rather than call another Vacancy Election, Daraka will appoint somebody as Northern Vice President. Rather than resign prior to the vacancy election, and allow members to actually elect our next Northern Vice President, Christine chose to resign before the last election and therefore guarantee that the new president, member of the Administration Caucus, will have the power to appoint the next Northern Vice President.  (UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, The Daily Cal, published an article that can be found here.)

On February 3, 2011 the Election results were announced for our recent statewide Vacancy Election. The new Executive Board members are listed: Jeff Otter, Cheryl Deutsch, and Charlie Eaton. Yet, something curious happened – the UAW website ( listed Filiberto Nolasco as “Guide-Elect,” though nobody actually ran for the empty Guide position (which, incidentally, Filiberto had vacated just a few weeks earlier). Filiberto recently confirmed that he was appointed to the Guide position by the President. The statewide Elections Committee, on which I sit as the UC Santa Cruz representative, wasn’t even notified of the decision.

Also, at UC Irvine the Unit Chair was recently removed from his position by the President/E-Board for not attending Union meetings. Rather than hold a vacancy election to elect a new Unit Chair, and despite the protests of the reform-minded elected leadership at Irvine, the President of the Union insisted that somebody must be appointed.

Our Union cannot claim to be democratic when the President has the power to appoint people to any position he/she pleases. Our union leadership can only be truly representative if the membership elects their own representatives. This should be obvious, and yet our leadership suppresses all efforts at reforming the Union to make it more democratic.  It’s clear that a Union is only as strong as its membership is engaged and mobilized, and we cannot expect members to get involved in an unrepresentative, top-down union, one that sees it’s members as foot soldiers to carry out decisions made by a small group of distant people on the Executive Board.

Academic Workers for a Democratic Unions is organizing to reform UAW 2865 – to empower members, to make our Union more democratic so that we can mobilize to defend our rights as workers at the University of California and join the larger struggle in defense of public education and social justice.

A strong union is a democratic union.

**A list of other Anti-Democratic Practices Within UAW 2865:

All emails are vetted by the statewide President of the local – campus leadership don’t have access members’ emails.

All written materials and websites must be vetted by the President. Even campus leadership (head stewards, Recording Secretary, Unit Chair) aren’t allowed to create a flyer without it being edited and approved by the President of the Local.

All campus-based actions, events, and campaigns must be approved by the President, the Executive Board or the Joint Council. Dare to organize an unauthorized protest, and risk being yelled at by statewide leadership or removed from your elected position within the Union.

The Joint Council, which meets quarterly and consists of representatives from each UC campus represented by the UAW (so not UCSF), is controlled by the Executive Board, the President, and UAW International staff. They come to Joint Council meetings with a set agenda and a series of reports and essentially suppress most proposals they don’t suggest themselves.

Each campus leadership does not have automatic access to at least minimal funds to use to make flyers, buy refreshments, reserve rooms, etc. We can’t even buy a ream of colored paper without the President asking us to pledge not to use said paper for “unauthorized” petitions, flyers, or other literature.