After a union vote that snubbed the top priorities of 95 percent of union workers and suppressed dissenting votes, the validity of the student-worker contract is under question by a team of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865’s own members.
Forty-nine members of UAW, the union representing student workers and graduate students employed by the university, accused the union’s executive board of violating Local 2865 voting bylaws in a hearing on Saturday. The appellates called for the annulment of their recent contract on the grounds that its passage did not address the basic needs of union members.
“It was unnerving to think that our union’s leadership would maintain the results of an undemocratic vote to uphold a contract that fails its workers on the grounds that they do not feel capable of making a plan to organize for a better contract — which is our shared hope,” said Mary Mussman, a UAW member and graduate student at UC Berkeley.
The Mussman Appeal — named for its author and lead appellant — alleges the recent contract fails to meet basic needs for members and approves wages not consistent with inflation. The document makes no mention of several other demands originally posed, such as access to affordable housing, support for students without citizenship and demilitarization of campus police. 95 percent of the union members named these as top priorities, according to the appellate press release.
“These things all affect grad students because we’re poor and not all of us are white, and some people aren’t [cisgender],” said Ana McTaggart, appellate and former campus chair for UC Santa Cruz. “If we don’t protect the most marginalized among us, we’re screwing over our own workplace.”
As it stands, the UC offer in early August included expansions to childcare subsidies, 3 percent wage increases each year over the next four years, paid leaves for workers to attend immigration-related appointments and a lump sum of $100 paid to each member.
The contract was approved through a vote in favor or against ratification conducted by the 10-person UAW Local 2865 Executive Board over the summer, when many academic workers were not on campuses. Appellates allege it was not a reflection of fair and democratic processes.
However, since the ratification vote is not technically an election, it stands within the union’s bylaws.
Several members of the board strongly backed the “yes” campaign, including board President Kavitha Iyengar. According to the appeal, Iyengar admitted to using staff resources to get out the vote for ratification, including directing paid staff to send correspondence to union members, claiming the bargaining majority supported the tentative agreement* and suppressing the “no” campaign from employing the same tactics.
Alli Carlisle, executive board recording secretary, said it is within the board’s
authority to oversee how staff time is spent, including campaigning.
“The bargaining team, which is elected officials from each campus, had voted to recommend the contract for ratification, and therefore voting ‘yes’ to ratify was considered at that time the larger union stance,” Carlisle said. “Staff were directed to let members know the bargaining team had voted that way.”
According to Carlisle, the board intervened with the “no” campaign distribution tactics because of a risk of privacy infringement — “no” staffers were utilizing a third-party mass texting algorithm requiring the phone numbers of union members. The intervention could have been construed as an obstruction to the campaign.
Appellates claimed the board stepped outside its power when it pushed the vote toward ratification, citing the hierarchy of UAW.
“When I first came into the union […] we felt very strongly that we didn’t want to be a union where a small group of people were directing staff to whip votes in a particular way, which then would make it look like the membership agreed to something when there hadn’t been much discussion of it,” said Marianne Kaletzky, appellate and former UAW head steward at UC Berkeley. “I think that’s what happened this past ratification vote, and that’s really lamentable.”
Appellates are still waiting for a response from the board. If they agree to annul the contract, the union will return to an impasse with the university until further bargaining can ensue. Despite the lackluster hearing and the possible long road of negotiations ahead, Ana McTaggart, appellate and former UAW campus chair for UC Santa Cruz, remains optimistic a fair agreement can be reached.
“We’re hopeful that they’ll treat [the appeal] seriously and consider supporting democratic unionism and member engagement by accepting [it],” McTaggart said. “What we want is an honest union and we believe it’s necessary to hold them accountable.”
Banner photo courtesy of Michael Song.