Vote counting to resume in union election

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Following a contentious decision to halt vote counting in a statewide leadership election and amid outcry and mobilization by members from both competing slates, the elections committee for a union representing academic student employees throughout the UC reconvened Tuesday afternoon, voting unanimously to resume counting votes.

Members of the Elections Committee for the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - which represents nearly 12,000 graduate students, readers and tutors - met via conference call, eventually deciding to resume vote counting Thursday and agreeing on additional policies - including the involvement of a third-party mediator - to avoid some of the setbacks that plagued the process.

The vote count began Friday, but after two days, the process was abruptly halted in a vote by committee members Saturday, following challenges of many ballots from members of both competing slates and multiple breakdowns in the process. The count ended despite the fact that three campuses - UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Merced - which represent just short of half the votes cast had not been counted.

"I'm excited to announce that the Election Committee met ... and was able to agree on a process for moving forward and counting all the ballots," said Travis Knowles, Elections Committee chair, in a letter to union members. "I want to thank everyone for their patience as we worked with all parties to resolve this challenging, stressful situation."

According to the letter, several policies have been put in place for when the counting resumes. A neutral, third-party mediator - who has been mutually agreed upon by both sides - will be present to "make sure the ballot count is done in a fair and neutral manner, ensure a civil and respectful environment (and) help adjudicate any challenges."

Additionally, the number of people in the room when votes are counted will be limited to two teams of five, with each team comprised of vote "talliers," challengers and a member of the Elections Committee. Candidates or supporters will not be allowed in the ballot-counting room, according to the letter.

"I am happy there is a commitment to finish soon, and that there is agreement to bring a mediator to resolve any conflicts efficiently," said Philippe Marchand, the Elections Committee member from UC Berkeley, in an email. "I can only assume that everyone realized it wasn't good for the union as a whole if the controversy surrounding the count continued for a long time."

According to Jennifer Tucker, a UC Berkeley graduate student and union unit chair for the campus, the mobilization of union members, members of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union - a reform caucus within the union - and other supporters impacted the decision to resume vote counting.

"I'm incredibly excited that the efforts of supporters, AWDU and UAW members has put enough pressure on the incumbent leadership and the elections committee that they will resume the vote count," she said.

At UC Berkeley on Monday, about 100 union members and supporters rallied at Sather Gate before about 60 people marched to the union office in the Downtown to join a "sit-down" that had begun earlier that morning. While numbers have fluctuated, around 12 or 15 members have remained in the office since 9 a.m. Monday and intend to remain until the votes are counted, according to Tucker.

In addition to the rally and sit-down, more than 50 faculty members and labor scholars from both the UC and universities around the nation called in a letter for the vote counting to resume, stating "our call to resume the vote count for elected positions at UAW 2865 is not motivated by partisanship, but by our general interest in ensuring the legitimacy and durability of the labor movement."

In a statement Monday, members of United for Social and Economic Justice, a slate affiliated with the union's incumbent leadership, also called for the vote counting to resume under "more civil conditions, calling for both parties to withdraw challenges to ballots and to work together to agree to a process to continue counting."

"I'm relieved that the process is moving forward," said Daraka Larimore-Hall, the current union president who is running for reelection. "I'm relieved that the elections committee decided to use some new methods that will hopefully eliminate the shenanigans that we've seen so they can do their jobs and count these votes."

According to Megan Wachspress, a UC Berkeley graduate student and campus head steward for the union, while she feels relieved that the vote count will resume, regardless of the outcome of the election, the union has gained strength due to the widespread mobilization the elections have brought about.

"Union members have already won because we managed to mobilize and engage so many members in this election," she said. "The sheer magnitude of mobilization and engagement that has happened, following the election, none of that is going to go away. When people feel invested in the direction of their union, they will continue to be engaged, and in that way, coming out of this election, as a union we are stronger."


Aaida Samad is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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