The triennial election for the UC teaching assistant union, UAW Local 2865, was held April 27-29. The ballot counting was interrupted on Saturday, leaving UCLA and UC Berkeley’s votes uncounted. Personal attacks to the parties’ candidates and spoiled ballots also shook up the election.
In addition to teaching two sections for a class called U.S. History After WWII, UC Santa Cruz history graduate student Sara Smith is running for UAW Local 2865 Executive Board’s northern vice president as a member of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU).
“This is the biggest crisis our union’s ever had,” Smith said.
AWDU is one of the two competing caucuses, similar to political parties, and was founded in 2009 when they felt UAW Local 2865 leadership wasn’t doing enough to combat budget cuts.
Smith said the 10-person UAW Executive Board currently makes decisions for 12,000 members. AWDU wants to increase democratic participation in decision-making among union members by spreading out the power concentrated in this board.
In response to rise of AWDU, the United for Social and Economic Justice (USEJ) caucus was born and is comprised of many incumbents.
“Current leadership [in UAW 2865] gave themselves a name to run against us,” Smith said of the formation of the USEJ.
She said USEJ has no presence at UCSC.
Daraka Larimore-Hall, executive board president, UC Santa Barbara sociology graduate student and TA, is running for re-election as a USEJ member. He said USEJ is responsible for bring 20,000 laborers into UAW.
“Our group was instrumental in making this happen,” Larimore-Hall said.
Adam Hefty, a UCSC election committee representative and graduate student, said that during Saturday’s ballot count, three of the six present election committee members voted to stop the count and adjourned the meeting, leaving the votes from UC Berkeley and UCLA uncounted.
“The election committee felt they couldn’t continue [to count the ballots] because of the atmosphere of hostility at the vote count,” Larimore-Hall said.
Hefty did not agree with the three election committee members who decided to stop counting.
“There was no pause for me to be able to vote or understand the motion that was going on,” Hefty said. “Three of six doesn’t constitute a majority.”
Smith said AWDU won at UC Davis, UC Irvine and UCSC, and received 95 percent of the votes at UCSC.
Even though USEJ won at UC Riverside, UCSB and UC San Diego, she said AWDU had a good chance of winning once UCLA and UC Berkeley’s votes were counted.
Both parties wanted the count to resume but didn’t agree upon terms under which the voting would continue.
On Tuesday the election committee decided counting would resume on the morning of May 5, supervised by a neutral mediator. Candidates and their supporters won’t be allowed in the room.
Smith said two ballot boxes from UCLA and UCSD were spoiled because they contained votes that weren’t concealed in the two appropriate identification envelopes. This caused Smith to fear voters were trying to vote twice or were stuffing the ballots.
Candidates from both parties said they were personally attacked during the campaign and the counting deadlock.
Larimore-Hall said he received strings of texts from AWDU supporters telling him he was going to jail because of what USEJ is doing.
“It’s absolutely disgusting the way AWDU’s been acting [since before] the election started,” he said.
Yuting Huang, UCLA graduate student and AWDU candidate for head steward at the UCLA campus level, said she was frustrated at times during the campaign and even cried.
She said she couldn’t always talk to voters after USEJ campaigners because they physically blocked her by walking voters to the polls.
“Many people will vote with very little information,” she said. “I felt people wanted to listen to both sides. Elections shouldn’t be run like that.”
UC Davis graduate student Xochitl Perez is running for the Executive Board’s northern vice president position with USEJ against Smith, and disagreed with aspects of AWDU’s campaign.
“We [in USEJ] attempted to focus on our record, while AWDU focused a lot on harassing our candidates by urging them to step down,” Perez said.
Perez said she was verbally insulted by two male AWDU candidates during the three days of voting and nobody stopped them.
“This conduct is not consistent with AWDU’s message,” she said. “This is not just running on issues. This is running a campaign of intimidation.”
During the counting stalemate, AWDU members sat in at the UCLA and Berkeley UAW offices and held a rally at UC Berkeley.
After teaching her Monday discussion, Smith returned to Berkeley. She said they will stay there until the ballot counting finishes.