Union to continue counting votes in leadership race

Jeffery Joh/Staff

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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, deciding 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 choosing to continue vote counting Thursday and agreeing on additional policies - including the involvement of a third-party mediator - to avoid some of the setbacks that initially plagued the process.

The vote count began Friday but after two days was abruptly halted in a vote by committee members Saturday, following challenges to 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 counting resumes. A neutral, mutually agreed upon, third-party mediator will be present to "make sure the ballot count is done in a fair and neutral manner."

"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 union reform caucus - and other supporters helped put pressure on the elections committee in its decision to resume vote counting.

At UC Berkeley on Monday, about 100 union members and supporters rallied at Sather Gate before around 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 stay until all votes are counted, Tucker said.

In addition, in a letter, more than 50 faculty members and labor scholars from the UC and universities around the nation called for the vote counting to resume, motivated by a "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, asking that both parties withdraw challenges to ballots.

"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," said Daraka Larimore-Hall, the current union president who is running for reelection.

According to Megan Wachspress, a UC Berkeley graduate student and campus head steward for the union, regardless of the outcome of the election, the widespread mobilization the elections have brought about is beneficial to the union.

"Union members have already won because we managed to mobilize and engage so many members in this election," she said. "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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