Monday, May 23, 2011

Reformers Win in California Grad Union Electio

Reformers Win in California Grad Union Election

By Barry Eidlin

Labor Notes

May 10 2011

Graduate workers across the University of California have

voted to transform their union. The Academic Workers for a

Democratic Union slate swept all 10 executive board positions

and nearly 60 percent of Joint Council positions in United

Auto Workers Local 2865. The local is the largest graduate

worker union in the country and the largest UAW local in the

West, representing 12,000 academic student workers at nine UC


AWDU ran a hard-fought campaign against the incumbent

leadership, which dubbed itself United for Social and

Economic Justice. The campaign itself was tough, but getting

the votes counted was even tougher. When it looked like

USEJ might lose, the elections committee abruptly suspended

the vote count last week and abandoned the ballots. Only in

the face of marches, petitions, a sit-in in the union office,

political pressure, and national media exposure did the

committee resume the count.

AWDU won 55 percent of the vote statewide and up to 90

percent on some campuses. Its presidential candidate, Cheryl

Deutsch, a second-year grad student in anthropology at UC

Irvine, garnered 56 percent of 3,241 votes cast, a record

turnout in a union where members have largely been


AWDU formed in early 2010 out of frustration with that lack

of involvement and with the union’s absence from the movement

to defend public education, which has at times been heated on

UC campuses. The reform movement picked up steam in late

2010, when members mobilized (unsuccessfully) for a 'no' vote

on what they saw as a substandard contract negotiated

with little member input.

Last month, AWDU campaigned on a platform of fighting for

public education through grassroots, bottom-up organizing.

"We believe only a participatory, bottom-up union can get

UC’s priorities back on track," Deutsch said.

The new leadership is making plans to build a more member-

driven, movement-oriented union. On top of fighting massive

cuts to public education and developing new strategies for

contract enforcement, the local is also gearing up for a

major campaign to organize more than 10,000 UC graduate

research assistants.

For more information, go to .

[Barry Eidlin is a sociology grad student at Berkeley.]

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