Graduate Student Union Claims Discrimination

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A faction of UC Berkeley's graduate student union has accused the head negotiators of discrimination, alleging a "pattern of racist exclusion."

Graduate student Frank Wilderson, an elected representative on the union's bargaining team, said union leaders have withheld information from the general membership, abandoned the democratic process and forfeited issues of importance to minorities in their fight for a contract.

But Christian Sweeney, spokesperson for the union, maintained he and the other seven members of the executive board are working in the best interest of all graduate students.

He said that because the contract must be ratified by the larger membership for passage, the democratic procedure cannot be bypassed.

One month ago, Wilderson was escorted from the bargaining table at Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove by two police officers and a park ranger after other members of the UC Berkeley branch of the graduate student union demanded he leave the premises.

He was escorted out of the meeting in handcuffs and then prohibited from returning to the bargaining site, but was never officially charged.

Wilderson said the incident reflects union leaders' attempts to keep him from representing students of color. Sweeney, however, said Wilderson was not welcome to the system-wide meeting because he is a local bargainer, and only democratically elected state-wide bargainers were permitted to attend.

"He came and disrupted bargaining," Sweeney said. "He didn't have the right to appoint himself to the bargaining team."

Sweeney added each UC school was limited to only two representatives on the state-wide committee to ensure that no single university bargaining team was able to dominate the discussions.

But beyond the incident at the conference center, the heart of the disagreement revolves around priorities, Wilderson said.

He and at least five other UC Berkeley union members said the organization's leaders have surrendered the right to strike on issues that will be defined in the contract. They also said the union has given up the right to an outside arbitrator on discrimination complaints.

"They lied to people," Wilderson said. "They said they'd fight for arbitration on every issue, but they won't fight for it in cases of discrimination. The bargaining team of white students believe they cannot allow for outside arbitrators to adjudicate and open a can of worms of racist policies."

Wilderson added the union's priorities reflect "Jim Crowism." Jim Crowe laws were enacted in the South after the Civil War as a means of economic and political discrimination against blacks.

"Moves like this are manifestations of the institution of racism," he said. "They support white supremacy. It doesn't matter whether they are wearing a white sheet."

Sweeney would not directly respond to Wilderson's comment but he said race issues are not unique to the union.

"Race is an issue in every organization and the leadership of AGSE is committed to making the union and university a just place," he said.

Sweeney added having an outside arbitrator means there is no reason to strike on issues referred to in the contract.

"We are committed to neutral third party enforcement on all issues," he said. "One locks out the possibility of the other. We give up the right to strike to get a neutral third party involved."


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