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.”

An open letter to UAW 2865 Elections Committee chair Travis Knowles

***

Travis:

Last night three members of the elections committee hastily abandoned the vote count underway at the UCLA office without counting any ballots from Berkeley or UCLA. You presented three motions, certifying the results of the election which had already been tabulated, referring the count to the next Joint Council meeting, and adjourning the meeting. None of these motions passed, since only three members of the committee participated in the “votes.” These “votes” were conducted over the course of less than 10 seconds without any time for discussion or even time for the other three members of the committee to be informed about what was happening. The proposed motion referring the election to the Joint Council is in violation of the UAW constitution, which stipulates, “All elections shall be held under the supervision of a democratically elected Election Committee” (Article 38, Section 15 c). Section 11 stipulates, “Following each election, the Election Committee shall report in writing the canvass of the results of the election to the membership’s next membership meeting.”

The three members of the committee who abandoned the count are in violation of the constitution and are impeding the work of the committee. Please return to the UCLA office immediately to resume the count.

If you refuse to resume the count, I would ask that you submit your resignations effective immediately.

Adam Hefty
Santa Cruz Election Committee member

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

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

Our friends in Academic Workers for a Democratic Union at UC Berkeley recently posted an analysis on their blog explaining why that two percent wage increase we “won” in our recent union contract did not actually ever appear in our paychecks.

They write:

Back in December, you may recall the bitter debate that rocked our union regarding the pay raise negotiated in our most recent contract campaign. AWDU members on the bargaining team strongly opposed –from the very start of negotiations — accepting the paltry 2% offer from the UC, and AWDU as a whole campaigned for a rejection of the tentative agreement partly on the basis that the wage offer was not really a pay raise at all. Little did we know just how true that would turn out to be…

As UAW 2865 members are now painfully aware, our take home paychecks did not, in fact, see any growth in January, because the expiry of a federal tax credit led to an increase in tax withholding. How much did this amount to? Funnily enough, 2%… So the ‘pay raise’, which our local’s leaders told us was generous, wholly satisfactory and indeed a victory for our contract campaign(!), turned out to be functionally nonexistent.

Clearly, the leadership should have been aware that the tax credit was expiring (the local, after all, does have its own payroll…) and the ‘pay raise’ they were trying to push on us was going to amount to nothing. If they didn’t know, they’re incompetent, and if they did, well, that raises another set of questions about why they would have kept that information to themselves. In the absence of hard evidence though, we’ll assume that our leaders were asleep at the wheel, rather than intentionally misleading members into thinking a 2% raise would have resulted in an actual increase in take-home pay.

Had we actually organized a contract campaign, consisting of an educational component, visibility, and, importantly, mass actions, all leading up to a viable strike threat or actual strike, we might have actually built up enough pressure on the University to win more than the paltry two percent wage increase.

Berkeley AWDU:

The contract campaign could have been very different, and it could have helped serve as a precedent for other UC, and public sector workers struggling for fair compensation. The leadership told us it was “irresponsible” to ask for a bigger raise, and that it would be “insulting” to our brothers and sisters working elsewhere in the UC system. This claim is a fundamental reflection of the difference between our approach to organizing and union democracy and that of the leadership. First of all, if it is irresponsible for us to ask for a wage that meets our cost of living and one that reflects the importance of investing in the instructional components of public education – then what exactly is the leadership’s touchstone for what constitutes “responsible” demands? Secondly, given how out-of-touch our leadership is with its own membership, we have a hard time taking seriously their claims about the sentiments of people in other UC unions. Even if their claim is true, we would hope our own leadership would continue to operate on the reality that when we win significant victories, the position of all UC workers improves. Extracting major concessions from the boss gives others increased confidence to fight for and win gains of their own, and it sets a benchmark for all future negotiations.

We desperately need a radical change at the top of our local. The current executive board, with a couple of prominent exceptions, is staffed by people who consistently refuse to take advantage of the power of our membership and even act as a barrier to the democratic reform that would force them to do so. What we really need is a reform slate that can dismantle the excessive centralization of power and resources in our local and allow ordinary members to take back their union. In just a few short months, the membership will have the opportunity to debate these questions in the context of the first fully contested leadership election in our local’s history. We look forward to holding the incumbent leadership accountable for their repeated failure to truly advance the interests of Academic Student Employees at the UC.

Read the entire post at the UC Berkeley AWDU blog by clicking [here]