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

Advertisements