Groups emerge as leadership elections near

Photo: Megan Wachspress, is running for the UC Berkeley recording secretary position.
Caroline McCloskey/Photo
Megan Wachspress, is running for the UC Berkeley recording secretary position.

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Less than a week remains until the tri-annual statewide leadership elections for a union representing UC academic student employees, and with election slates and platforms recently released by two competing groups within the union, conflicts have arisen as candidates debate election policies as well as the future structure and direction of the union.

Two groups within the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - which represents graduate student instructors, readers and tutors throughout the UC system - released their election slates and platforms April 13 for the three-day union leadership election. In the election, which is slated to begin April 26, all leadership positions - both union executive board and campus specific positions - are open.

Academic Workers for Democratic Union - a reform caucus in the union - released a 60-candidate slate, which included 10 candidates for the union's executive board positions and 15 candidates for campus positions at UC Berkeley, while United for Social and Economic Justice, a team affiliated with the incumbent leadership, released a slate of 80, not counting those running for multiple positions.

According to Daraka Larimore-Hall, the current union president who is running for reelection, the USEJ slate contains more candidates than available positions because the slate has not been finalized, with candidates still deciding whether they will run.

Members from both groups assert that there are fundamental differences in group platforms and candidates, including their approaches to the decision-making, structure and direction of the union, as well as what the priorities should be in the future.

Candidates with the USEJ slate said they feel the challenges facing the union include enforcing the union's current contract with the UC and focusing on threats to collective bargaining rights in the state and to higher education.

AWDU candidates said their priorities for the union include engaging members to defend public education, fighting against cuts to fee remissions and benefits for graduate students and forming a union that supports members empowered through direct action.

According to Megan Wachspress, a campus head steward who is running for the UC Berkeley recording secretary position with AWDU, a key difference between the two groups is in how they approach decision-making in the union, with AWDU supporting a "bottom-up approach that engages union membership at each campus."

"Decisions should be made at the campus level with the job of leadership being to ensure campuses coordinate with each other and have the resources they need," Wachspress said. "The current union administration has shown us with their record that their top-down approach ... is ineffective."

However, Donna Fenton, the union's current financial secretary who is running for a UC Berkeley leadership position with the USEJ slate, said the group's approach to leadership in the union will focus on "bringing people together, to move forward to focus on working on our common goals."

"USEJ definitely believes in having a strong statewide union and strong union leadership," Fenton said. "That's why we've been successful up until now, and it's why we support a strong statewide union that is not divided into smaller units."

The union has seen increasing levels of partisanship since a highly contentious contract ratification vote late last semester and going into elections, tensions have been running high.

While the groups disagree over ways to run the union, in the weeks leading up to the election, additional contention has arisen over negative campaigning, candidate eligibility and election policies, with both groups asserting that some candidates put forward by each other's slates are ineligible to run for positions.

"In my years as an academic student employee, I've never seen an election like this," said Xochitl Lopez, a student the UC Davis School of Law who is running for union northern vice president with the USEJ slate. "I don't think these levels of attacks and this type negative campaigning is appropriate."

However, both groups maintain that while the negativity is not constructive, it is not proving too distracting.

"For the most part, people don't care," Lopez said. "People want to know who is going to be more effective at leading this union."


Aaida Samad covers higher education.

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