After halting the vote count last night (in the face of a possible AWDU victory), UAW President Daraka Larimore-Hall sent a frantic (and bizarre) email to thousands of members across the UC system.  While we assume that most members will treat this email much like they treat any spam, a friend and colleague at UCSD has responded to Larimore-Hall reasonably and patiently.  We think this response effectively demolishes Larimore-Hall’s late-night ramblings and we publish relevant excerpts below:

“Later in the evening, I was forwarded an e-mail that Mr. Larimore-Hall allegedly sent to a list of supporters making allegations of vote tampering and homophobic slurs from AWDU representatives.  Regardless of truth value, the decision to air this kind of dirty laundry in public seems to pose a threat to the bargaining strength of our union.  It suggests to the University and the public more broadly that we are incapable of settling disputes and differences of opinion within our ranks in an orderly manner.  It feeds popular misconceptions about union corruption.  It also feeds misconceptions within the University about the immaturity of graduate students. Surely there must have been a tactful way to address your concerns of fraud and bullying that would have more properly balanced the rights of members to know the nature of the current disputes over the election, and yet also would have stopped short of feeding the types of popular misconceptions about the lack of process, democracy and maturity within graduate student communities and within organized labor.

“More alarmingly, some of the evidence to which Mr. Larimore-Hall points is dubious in the extreme.  He provides a photograph of an unnamed “AWDU supporter” that he claims is “opening and rummaging through” a ballot box while polls are open.  The photographic evidence does not seem to justify this claim in any way; the poll worker’s face is not visible, making him impossible to identify as an “AWDU supporter.”  The contents of the box are not visible, meaning that this could easily be a picture of somebody assembling an empty box rather than someone rummaging through a filled box.  Moreover, there is no tape on the top of the box (as there would be had it been sealed shut in order to accept ballots) further suggesting that the photograph does not actually depict what Mr. Larimore-Hall claims it does.  The supposed infraction is taking place in broad daylight and in a very public place (with neutral parties in plain sight); this seems a wholly unlikely scenario in which fraud would occur without being detected and stopped by a member of the public or of the union. No explanation is given as to why the person who took the photo did not immediately step in to prevent and report the alleged fraud as it was taking place.  I could probably go on and on.

“Once again, what’s at stake here is much larger than the substance of the claim that has been submitted.  Even if one were to assume that this is genuine evidence of election fraud – and nothing about the photo adequately justifies this claim – the decision to release such poor evidence of fraud in such a public manner, prior to any review hearings or any systematic response has been made, places Mr. Larimore-Hall’s judgment and discretion under suspicion and sheds a poor light on the union.

“My point in writing this letter is not to diminish the serious nature of the allegations of fraud being made at the moment.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Charges of election fraud cast a long shadow on the actions of our union, and should be dealt with systematically, swiftly and with a realization that any verifiable instances of fraud stain not only to the person found guilty, but also the democratic structures and representative capabilities of our union as a whole. Given this seriousness, and given the gravity of the charges being made, it seems wholly inappropriate for evidence of fraud to be released to the public before it has been vetted and judged for accuracy by a systematic, neutral body of our union like the elections committee or a full, closed membership meeting.  When the evidence carries with it the obvious problems that I’ve noted in this case, the public release of these allegations is downright shameful.

“My hope is that the e-mail released under Mr. Larimore-Hall’s name was either a forgery, or was released publicly in error and haste.  If this is not the case, I urge him to retract these allegations pending a formal hearing and publicly acknowledge the impropriety of his e-mail.   This seems fully warranted regardless of the truth of the allegations and the outcome of the elections.  Should Mr. Larimore- Hall fail to take these actions, he risks embarrassing our union and himself, something that I’m sure he’s not eager to do given his long service to UAW 2865.”
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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

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

Over the last few months, we’ve all noticed the increased volume of emails from UAW Local 2865 Statewide Leadership to the membership, with many of the messages focusing on social justice issues (such as the fight to protect collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin).  While I am always pleased to see our union pay more attention to social and economic justice, it is no coincidence that this sudden surge coincides with the mobilizing done by AWDU and follows a rank-and-file challenge to a complacent Executive Board during the contract ratification vote.  Our union leadership is suddenly worried–worried that all the effort they didn’t put into organizing, mobilization, and social justice over the past decade could cause them to lose power in the upcoming elections.  And so now, at least until the May elections, they are going to act like the leadership that we’ve been demanding for years.

Thus, we have today’s “Action Alert” email from the UAW leadership.  Here is the complete text, as sent to members at Berkeley and Santa Cruz:

SAY NO TO REGENT DESIGNEE DAVID CRANE

As academic student employees face the results of years of budget cuts and fee increases, we rely heavily on the gains made through collective bargaining to fight back against the ever-increasing attacks on higher education and on the public sector in general.  We can’t afford to be complacent about defending our right to organize and bargain collectively. The nation-wide movement to eliminate that right has powerful friends here in California- even right here at the U.C.

On his way out the door, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed multi-millionaire investor David Crane to the UC board of Regents. Following the lead of Wisconsin Governor Walker, Crane recently authored an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle calling for the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

In response Crane’s op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has mounted a campaign to prevent Crane’s confirmation to the Board of Regents.

“I thought we had already seen the height of arrogance by UC Regents,” said Yee in a press release. “It is time for Regent Crane to put away his Wisconsin playbook and come down from his ivory tower.”

“While the Regents have approved million dollar contracts for their top administrators, they allow many UC workers and their families to live in poverty,” said Yee.  “Now, Regent Crane wants to take away their only avenue to earning a livable wage and a respectable retirement – their collective bargaining rights.”

Source: <http://dist08.casen.govoffice.com/index.asp?Type=B_PR&SEC>

In times like these, the UC needs leadership that understands the challenges facing higher education, and will stick up for ordinary Californians. Instead, the Board of Regents is chock full of ideologues and wealthy friends of the Governor.

We urge our members to join Senator Yee in calling for a “no” vote on Crane’s confirmation. Our colleagues at AFSCME Local 3299, representing service and health care employees at the UC have set up an online letter to California Senate President Pro-Tempore Darrell Steinberg. Tell Senator Steinberg: Don’t let Crane silence our voices!  Take action to stop Crane’s confirmation and protect the vital services provided at the UC and in our communities by public employees!

Make no mistake: we can and should fight–and fight HARD–against the appointment of David Crane as UC Regent.  However, the problem is that this email doesn’t actually offer any resources to do that!  We are told to “tell Senator Steinberg” to oppose Crane.  How?  What is his phone number?  His email?  We are told that AFSCME Local 3299 has set up an online petition.  Where?  How do we sign it?  In other words, our leadership sent us an “Action Alert” that doesn’t actually contain in it any resources for action.

On the one hand, I don’t want to make too big a deal out of an omission in an email that was probably written in haste.  On the other hand, the most important part of this email is the part that got omitted.  The result is a message that invites member participation and simultaneously provides no resources for it.

And it’s not just this email.  Most of the Bargaining Updates from the last contract campaign ended with a stock phrase about “getting involved” and an exhortation to contact your campus office–without mentioning, of course, that there were almost never any actions for members to take if you did call.  And then there was the recent email to the membership about the California state budget that ended with this rousing call to action: “once further details are available, we will let you know.”  These are calls to action that, for the most part, are missing the action.

While I am glad that our Executive Board has a newly-discovered willingness to email the membership, I think we could ask for a bit more.  And while including basic resources (like Senator contact information or petition URLs) in a call to action would be an improvement, this too seems like setting the bar too low.  Our goal should be a union in which the members decide what actions to take and how to take those actions.  While we should certainly make lobbying phone calls to Senator Steinberg and while we should all sign an online petition (N.B., sign here), we could go beyond this.  We could talk with each other about what we could do on our own campuses and beyond.  We could work with our students and our colleagues.  We could plan our own actions.  In other words, we could organize ourselves and then tell the Executive Board how we are going to fight.  And then we could demand that they support us.

Note:  In contrast to the Executive Board’s email, check out this “Action Alert” sent out yesterday by AFSCME (and PLEASE use the resources in it to actually take action!):

UC Regent designate David Crane is taking cues from Wisconsin Gov. Walker by calling  to end collective bargaining for California’s teachers, nurses, fire fighters and other public workers, as seen in his recent SF Chronicle Op Ed.  He makes a subtle distinction between those with statutory civil service protections and those without.  But civil service laws do not provide a voice at work for public employees through which we are able to effectively advocate for our patients, students, and the public we serve daily.  Nor do these laws allow us to speak out against executive greed or fight to protect the wages and benefits our families depend on.

We have a chance to kill David Crane’s nomination before it even goes to Gov. Brown’s desk; Crane’s nomination has to pass through the Democrat controlled Rules Committee before it goes to a full vote of the Senate. If the rules committee doesn’t pass his nomination forward, then he’s no longer a Regent!

Please call Senator Darrell Steinberg,  majority leader in the Senate and chair of the Rules Committee ASAP with this message: (916)-651-4006

“I’m a member of the UC community and a voter, and I strongly oppose David Crane’s nomination to the UC Board of Regents because of his public stance opposing collective bargaining for public workers.  Collective bargaining is the only voice workers at the UC have to stand up for the students and patients we serve. For the sake of workers, students, faculty and our mission of a truly public university, I want him removed immediately!”

Calls today will be extremely effective in pressuring Democrats not to even forward Crane’s union-busting name on to the Senate. They will also be registered by the entire Democratic leadership as Steinberg is a top Dem leader in the entire legislature.

Passed unanimously at the monthly membership meeting on 2/28/11.

RESOLUTION: CAMPUS CONTACT NAMES AND CAMPUS EMAIL ADDRESS SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN ALL OFFICIAL COMMUNICATIONS WITH SANTA CRUZ MEMBERSHIP

WHEREAS, each campus unit of UAW Local 2865 elects its own campus leaders; and

WHEREAS, campus leaders serve as an initial point of contact between members and Local leadership; and

WHEREAS, members on each campus should know the names of their campus leaders and how to contact them; and

WHEREAS, each campus, including Santa Cruz, has a designated UAW campus email account for purposes of official contact with members; and

WHEREAS, most emails to Santa Cruz membership from the statewide leadership do not contain names or contact information for campus leaders; and

WHEREAS, at least one recent email to Santa Cruz membership from the statewide leadership did not include the official Santa Cruz UAW email (santacruz@uaw2865.org), but instead asked members to reply to a statewide address; Therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the Santa Cruz unit requires that all future emails from UAW Local 2865 to members of the Santa Cruz unit include the names and positions of the elected UAW Local 2865 campus leaders at Santa Cruz; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Santa Cruz unit requires that all future emails from UAW Local 2865 to members of the Santa Cruz unit include the campus UAW email (santacruz@uaw2865.org) as the designated “Reply-To” email address; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Santa Cruz unit requires that the official Santa Cruz UAW email (santacruz@uaw2865.org) serve as the default response email address for all organizing and action appeals made to Santa Cruz members by the statewide leadership; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Santa Cruz unit will notify the UAW Local 2865 statewide leadership of this resolution.

At the UAW 2865 monthly membership meeting at UC Santa Cruz on Monday, February 28th, 2011, members of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union proposed the following resolution in support of a fair contract for clerical employees represented by CUE-Teamsters. The resolution passed unanimously.

RESOLUTION: FAIR CONTRACT FOR CUE-TEAMSTERS

UAW Local 2865 Santa Cruz Unit

WHEREAS, workers represented by CUE-Teamsters perform essential work for the University of California–at Santa Cruz and throughout the UC system; and

WHEREAS, these workers perform complex jobs that require a broad range of knowledge and skills; and

WHEREAS, many of these workers have seen their duties increase significantly as UCOP has made budget cuts; and

WHEREAS, the clerical workers at UC Santa Cruz are already under-compensated compared to non-UC clerical workers in the Santa Cruz area; and

WHEREAS, the clerical workers at UC Santa Cruz face significant cost increases in their health care plans due to UCOP’s disregard of regional inequities in health care; and

WHEREAS, the average salary for clerical workers at UC Santa Cruz is approximately $35,000/year, while nearly 3200 “senior executives” in the UC system are paid more than $214,000/year; and

WHEREAS, the workers represented by CUE-Teamsters have been in bargaining with UCOP for a new contract since 2008; and

WHEREAS, the UC has shown a manifest unwillingness to come to terms on a fair contract for employees represented CUE-Teamsters; Therefore be it

RESOLVED, that UAW Local 2865 Santa Cruz Unit calls on UCOP to bargain in good faith with CUE-Teamsters; and be it further

RESOLVED, that UAW Local 2865 Santa Cruz Unit calls on UCOP to resolve a fair contract that recognizes the importance of the work performed by clerical employees at UC Santa Cruz and throughout the UC; and be it further

RESOLVED, that UAW Local 2865 Santa Cruz Unit will support CUE-Teamsters in any and all actions that they deem necessary to secure a fair contract; and be it further

RESOLVED, that UAW Local 2865 Santa Cruz Unit urges all of its members to participate in any and all actions that CUE-Teamsters organizes to secure a fair contract; and be it further

RESOLVED, that UAW Local 2865 Santa Cruz Unit will inform UCOP of this resolution.

Passed 2/28/11.


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
AWDUSantaCruz@gmail.com