Tensions run high prior to union election

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With little more than two weeks until a tri-annual statewide leadership election for a union representing UC academic student employees, tensions were running high at a statewide leadership meeting Saturday, with growing divisiveness in the union reflected in the decision to adjourn the meeting early by a partisan vote.

More than 50 leaders of the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - which represents nearly 12,000 readers, tutors and graduate student instructors - met at a quarterly meeting in Berkeley to discuss a variety of union issues.

Three-day union voting, in which all leadership positions will be up for election, is slated to begin April 26.

Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley graduate student and trustee for the union, said the meeting was abruptly halted early with a partisan vote before proposed policies to address the union's upcoming elections could be addressed. Such proposals included providing equal access to lists of union members and emails in order to communicate about the election.

While those affiliated with the union reform caucus Academic Workers for a Democratic Union have asserted that the purpose of the proposals was to "ensure a free and fair election," members of the candidate team affiliated with the incumbent union leadership, United for Social and Economic Justice, have said the policies were "divisive, partisan posturing."

In addition to the meeting adjourning early, Eaton said issues arose when the union's trustees requested, but were denied access to, union financial records after the meeting, something he said they are entitled to see under the union's bylaws.

According to Daraka Larimore-Hall, the union's president, the records were not provided because of the "time, place and aggressive manner in which the request was made."

Donna Fenton, union financial secretary, said the appropriate way to request the records would be to make a written request and an appointment to view them.

"I think the elections and partisanship was largely what was behind this request," she said. "This was about making a point."

The union has been increasingly partisan and divided since a highly contentious vote to ratify the contract early last semester.

Filiberto Nolasco, union guide and a UC Santa Barbara graduate student who is part of the group affiliated with the incumbent leadership, said it was "fine to have lively debate and conversations and about the direction of the union." But he added that when taken too far, some of the recent behavior stemming from the tension surrounding the elections was counterproductive.

"It is completely natural and healthy for there to be divisions and differing ideas within a union," he said. "Concerns come up when there is a level of aggression and hostility that we're seeing here."

However, according to Megan Wachspress, a UC Berkeley GSI and head steward affiliated with the reform caucus, the partisanship has helped the union by increasing participation as well as holding current union leadership accountable.

"This partisanship has revitalized the union increasing engagement at the statewide and local levels," she said. "As unpleasant as the divisiveness is, it's good for the membership that people are challenging those in charge to be increasingly transparent and accountable."

Tags: UAW LOCAL 2865, GSIS

Aaida Samad covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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