April 2011


Daraka Larimore-Hall has two jobs.  He is currently the President of UAW Local 2865 and is seeking a full three-year term in next week’s elections.  He is also the Chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party.  I think this is a problem.

As UAW president, Larimore-Hall participates in the disbursement of thousands of dollars of members’ voluntary political action contributions to California candidates.  Undoubtedly, most if not all of these candidates are Democrats.  I am not accusing Larimore-Hall of any improprieties, but there is a clear conflict of interest here.  I think UAW members should be uncomfortable with an elected Democratic leader being in a position to help make contributions directly from our union coffers to Democratic candidates that he helps to choose–especially when the success of those candidates will undoubtedly help his own political career in the Democratic Party.

What makes this even more problematic is the lack of transparency in this process in our union.  There is absolutely no mechanism in place to keep members informed of the political contributions that the UAW makes using our voluntary political action contributions (VCAP).  Members–including those who contribute to VCAP–do not receive reports on VCAP spending, nor do members of our Local’s ostensible governing body, the Joint Council.

There is a broader question here, of course.  While the interests of the ASEs in our union indeed often overlap with the interests of Democratic politicians, there are certainly situations in which this is not the case.  In the current California budget debacle, Democratic politicians are well on their way to endorsing cuts to unions and to public education.  As a union, we will need to make tough decisions about how to fight back and we will soon need to consider the question of whether, as a union, we can support certain Democratic politicians.  If we are going to have that discussion, we need a leader whose political commitments aren’t entirely determined by his other job.  As long as Daraka Larimore-Hall holds both his current jobs, there is no way for UAW members to have confidence that his political decisions are in our best interests.

There is an alternative, of course.  Instead of a Democratic UAW, we can choose a democratic UAW–a union run by rank-and-file members who do not serve the interests of major political parties.  Daraka should keep his job with the Santa Barbara Democratic Party.  And we should elect a new president.

Brian Malone
Graduate Student in Literature
Santa Cruz Unit Chair 2009-11

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I’ve been catching a lot of flak lately in the form of politically motivated attacks about private emails I’ve written which have been forwarded, distorted, and characterized out of context, so I decided to make my latest report on the goings-on in the UAW 2865 elections committee a public note.

In short, the committee agreed to an election protocol which has few serious protections against vote tampering, despite strenuous objections. Despite the fact that we are a very large, complicated local with many worksites, next week’s election is highly contested, and our most recent statewide vote was challenged as containing irregularities by members from around the state, the committee was not interested in listening to serious proposals for change.

It’s worth pointing out that when objections were raised at the vote count for December’s ratification vote and at January’s Joint Council meeting, the leadership of the union said repeatedly: “These are very legitimate concerns moving forward; you should raise them on the elections committee, where they belong.” Well, they’ve now been raised on the elections committee, and most of the concerns raised were dismissed without a serious hearing.

There are two substantial changes from the procedure we followed for the contract ratification vote. 1) All ballots, not just challenged ballots, will be placed inside two envelopes: a small envelope to guarantee vote privacy, and a larger one which the voter will sign. This measure is designed to prevent voters from voting twice in the same day at different polling places, given that several copies of the voting list will be circulating on each campus. 2) Each voting period will have its own ballot box, which will be used only once and then (supposedly) sealed until the vote count. Though I wonder how San Diego and Berkeley elections reps are going to travel to a central location in the state, possibly on a plane, carrying 25-30 ballot boxes. (more…)

In an unsigned post, the United for Social and Economic Justice (USEJ) Caucus has accused members of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) of “dirty tricks” around the upcoming triennial elections.  I am the outgoing Chair of the UC Santa Cruz Unit and, since most of the USEJ’s charges focus on UCSC, I find myself in a unique position to respond to the lazy insinuations and attempts at misdirection.

The USEJ Caucus accuses one of our Santa Cruz members, Sara Smith, of manipulating elections protocol to her (and AWDU’s) benefit by proposing too few polling locations at SC for the upcoming elections.  Let me by perfectly clear: the proposal that Sara brought to the Elections Committee was a request from the elected campus leadership at UCSC.  Our campus leadership, in consultation with members, made a decision about where to place campus polling locations; Sara communicated our wishes to the Elections Committee.  There was no secrecy, manipulation, or conflict of interest.  Rather, this was an example of campus autonomy, collective decision-making, and transparency—not coincidentally the values that AWDU is trying to bring to our union.

In the interest of transparency, let me explain why we made the elections proposal that we did.  Our proposal took into account the fact that, unlike many other campuses, our leadership at UCSC is completely volunteer.  None of us are on the union payroll.  Unlike a number of current UAW leaders, we are all graduate students and most of us continue to teach while we hold elected office.  Furthermore, unlike on many other campuses, the UAW does not provide us with paid staff members at Santa Cruz to do “get out the vote” activities or to work at the polls.  We have significantly limited resources on this campus.  Even so, our proposal for polling places included longer hours and more polling locations than for any UAW election at Santa Cruz in recent memory (including, for the first time that I can recall, a polling station at Family Student Housing).  And, based on voter turnout on our campus in the two elections last year, we expect record turnout next week—despite the supposedly limited number of polling locations.  In no way are we “limiting participation” at UCSC, and when 60% of the SC unit turns out to vote next week (a higher turnout than on most other campuses, I predict), the emptiness of the USEJ’s charges will be clear.

The USEJ’s attempt to challenge AWDU on “union democracy” is a classic case of misdirection.  There are two components to democracy in this upcoming election: 1. opportunities for members to vote, and 2. the guarantee that all members’ votes will count.  USEJ wants you to pay attention to the first, so that you won’t start asking questions about the second.  Make no mistake: even if the UAW Elections Committee set up a polling place in every building on every campus, there would be no reason for members, under current elections protocol, to have any confidence in the outcome of the election.  There are several serious problems with the elections protocol established during the contract ratification vote:

  1. Ballot boxes are not secure.  During a multiple-day election, ballot boxes are stored overnight in UAW offices.  In this upcoming election, a number of candidates who are current officers (including Daraka Larimore-Hall, Jorge Cabrera, and Donna Fenton) will have keys to one or more of these campus offices.  One way to protect against this type of tampering would be to count all ballots at the end of each day; the Elections Committee has consistently refused to consider this option.
  2. Multiple ballot boxes on each campus means the possibility of repeat voting.  In current protocol, there is no way to verify the identity of voters nor to determine whether they have voted previously at a different ballot box.
  3. Voter rolls are not released at the end of the election.  Without this information, there is no way to check who voted.  Voter rolls for civil elections are a matter of public record in California and should be so in our union as well.

Members of AWDU have recently made or tried to make proposals to solve all of these issues, but they have been consistently voted down or stonewalled by members of the USEJ Caucus.  If the USEJ has recently become concerned with democracy and transparency, they could begin by creating a new elections protocol—one that recognizes vote security as essential to any democratic activity.

Finally, I can’t help but find ironic the USEJ’s sudden concern for participatory democracy at Santa Cruz.  The UAW Executive Board (including current USEJ candidates Daraka Larimore-Hall, Jorge Cabrera, and Donna Fenton) certainly wasn’t interested in democracy at UCSC when they voted to reject a resolution recently passed by our members that innocuously requested campus contact information be included in emails from the UAW to our campus membership.  When we recently requested a list of member phone numbers for our unit so that we can make nonpartisan election reminder calls to turn out voters for next week’s election, the current leadership ignored our request.  Indeed, the current UAW leadership has gone out of their way to ignore Santa Cruz for the last three years—until they want our votes.  And, despite their recent use for UCSC for political grandstanding, they will ignore us for three more years if they win. That’s how much the USEJ cares about democratic participation at Santa Cruz.

Brian Malone
Graduate Student in Literature
Santa Cruz Unit Chair 2009-11

From April 26-28, we will be voting for new union leadership, both at the statewide and campus levels. This election is significant as it will determine the direction of our union for the next three years. As a member of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU), I encourage you to vote for AWDU candidates for all positions. AWDU candidates are committed to making positive change in our union and becoming a true force for social and economic justice–on our campus and beyond. I have listed the AWDU candidates at the end of this email.

Academic Workers for a Democratic Union is committed to reforming our union to make it democratic and transparent. The current statewide leadership makes decisions at closed-door meetings and then sends terse emails telling members what to do. This is not union democracy. AWDU will return decision-making power to the individual campuses. We want members to decide where to focus our union’s resources. We will rely on campus monthly membership meetings, departmental meetings, and our everyday conversations with each other to serve as spaces for discussion, debate, and decision-making.

AWDU candidates believe that a democratic union is a union that can fight hard for social and economic justice. Justice does not come from the actions of a sequestered Executive Board, no matter how many emails they send and no matter how many donations they make to political candidates. You cannot organize for social justice when the membership is disempowered. Justice organizing begins with an active and engaged membership at the campus level, a membership that makes its own decisions and chooses where to focus its energy.

Over the past few years, AWDU members at Santa Cruz have modeled this type of social justice organizing based on democratic participation. We have fought against large class sizes. We have won improvements in queer labor rights. We are preparing to challenge recent enforcement of the 18-quarter rule. We are supporting the struggle for Ethnic Studies. Activists at UCSC have been modeling AWDU’s commitment to union democracy and social justice for years. Now it is time for our statewide leadership to follow our lead.

You may recently have received a campaign email from a slate of candidates branding themselves “United for Social and Economic Justice.” These are the current statewide leaders of our union. These are the same leaders who touted the “great contract” that we “won” last fall–the contract that 90% of UCSC voters rightly rejected as inadequate. These are the leaders who time and again have refused to organize against larger class sizes, who have said that there’s “nothing the union can do” about rapidly-disappearing TAships and increasingly-unaffordable housing, who responded to systematic UC budget cuts by collecting signatures on a petition that was never actually delivered. Regardless of their brand name, these candidates clearly do not stand for social and economic justice. They stand for three more years of distant leadership, disempowered membership, and failed contract negotiations.

On April 26-28, you will be able to choose what kind of union you want to belong to. Vote AWDU for a union that BELONGS TO ITS MEMBERS and is WILLING TO FIGHT. And JOIN US as we fight to take back our union: AWDU meeting, Wednesday, April 13, 7 PM, Grad Student Commons.

Yours,
Brian

Brian Malone
Graduate Student in Literature
University of California, Santa Cruz

AWDU Statewide Candidates:

Cheryl Deutsch (Irvine) President
Sara Smith (Santa Cruz) Northern VP
Elliott Kim (Riverside) Southern VP
Charlie Eaton (Berkeley) Financial Sec’y
Mandy Cohen (Berkeley) Recording Sec’y
Brenda Medina-Hernandez (Davis) Trustee
Nick Kardahji (Berkeley) Trustee
Kyle Arnone (LA) Trustee
Jordan Brocious (Irvine) Sgt-at-Arms
Blanca Missé (Berkeley) Guide

AWDU UCSC Candidates
Mary Virginia Watson (Politics) Unit Chair
Josh Brahinsky (History of Consciousness) Recording Secretary
Michelle Glowa (Environmental Studies) Head Steward
Kelsi Evans (History) Head Steward