Wednesday, April 23, 2014

UAW 2865 elections: AWDU and SWITCh

Once every three years the entire leadership of our union UAW 2865 is up for grabs, every single officer position is vacated. Three years ago a reform slate (AWDU) that was tired of top-down business unionism took power and promised to democratize the union and get involved in struggles for social justice and in defense of public education. Remnants of the old leadership has rebranded itself and is trying to make a come back.

The SWITCh slate is being run by the same group of top-down career-oriented  business unionists. Let's examine who the leadership is, what their ideas and strategy for the union are, and just how honest their campaigning is.

The SWITCh leadership

Three people are major players of the SWITCh leadership, Rob Ackermann (UCSB), John Gust (UCR), and Jason Struna (UCR). All three of them ran in 2011 as part of the USEJ caucus slate, but have since claimed that there is no USEJ. However, just like in the 2011 election they have rebranded themselves, this time they are going under the name SWITCh, Student Workers for Inclusive Transparent Change.

John Gust has been a union officer since before the 2011 election, he was on the bargaining team for the 2010 contract, and had served as Recording Secretary and Head Steward at UCR. In 2011 he became Unit Chair of UCR (and he also ran for Trustee on the eboard, and had AWDU not won he would have been holding 2 positions since 2011 instead of only until recently) and recently was elected to the position of Southern Vice President, and when the president lost his position because he was unable to continue participating in e-board meetings Gust became UAW 2865 president.
*Gust maintained BOTH positions, unit chair and president at the same time.

Rob Ackermann has been Recording Secretary then Unit Chair at UCSB since the 2011 election, when he ran as part of the USEJ slate and he was elected to the position of Financial Secretary recently.
*Ackerman maintained both positions, Unit Chair and Financial Secretary at the same time, and tried to take pay for both positions, but was shamed by the AWDU dominated eboard into not doing so. Had he done this he would have been getting pay for 100% time, making twice what the average UC TA makes!

Jason Struna has been recording secretary and head steward at at UCR since 2011.

The positions that these people are running for are very telling so lets quickly examine the three most important positions in the union: Unit Chair, President, and Financial Secretary.

Why are these three positions the most important? Because the UAW 2865 bylaws (Article 6 Sec 3 and Article 10 Sec 4) explicitly state that all three of thee positions guarantee a paid 50% appointment - with the financial secretary getting guaranteed pay over the summer.

Currently under AWDU the eboard has collectivized work and rotates who is on paid staff, so that power isn't centralized in just a couple of people, but to the board as a whole. However they were not able to make this change formally to the bylaws, so if USEJ/SWITCh wins then they can still consolidate power and pay into just a few positions.

So let's look at who has been holding what positions and what they are running for again:

Gust: Unit Chair (PAID)/President (PAID) running for Financial Secretary (PAID)
Ackermann: Unit Chair (PAID)/Financial Secretary (PAID) running for President (PAID)
Struna: Recording Secretary(Unpaid) running for Unit Chair (PAID)

What they are about

This section refers to the SWITCh leadership mentioned in the above section. Many of those running for (unpaid) officer positions are new to union work and are unknown to me, so I am not writing about them because I do not know them.

I'm not sure how they define inclusive, but my definition doesn't include holding multiple (PAID) positions so that other people cannot participate in the union. Furthermore it doesn't include holding office for over three separate election cycles like John Gust will if he wins. (He was head steward and recording secretary before the 2011 election, has been unit chair, southern vp, and president during the 2011-2014 cycle, and is running for financial secretary for the 2014-2017 cycle.)

In the last Joint Council meeting a bylaws amendment was proposed to limit multiple office holding and to put in place term limits, however Ackerman, Gust, Struna, and all of their USEJ/SWITCh allies on the JC voted against the amendment. One of those who voted against these amendments actually said, "in the last election 400 people at UCSB voted to have Rob Ackerman represent them on the ebaord, it would be undemocratic to limit him to only holding one office."

Their actions and this statement reveal their real feelings on inclusiveness and their real ideas about unionism. If Rob could get 400 people to vote for him, it seems VERY plausible that he should be able to find ONE person to take his office as Unit Chair so that he can be on the eboard. But instead the relationship he has with the membership, and thus the union has with the membership at UCSB is one in which their participation is limited to providing him with legitimacy - his union doesn't try to get as many people involved in leadership positions as possible so that many people can gain experience and knowledge and skills, that's limited to just him.

Compare that to AWDU. AWDU has in its three years of holding the eboard had numerous people step down and new people run to take their place. There isn't a single AWDU candidate who is running for eboard in 2014 that ran in 2011. Under AWDU the eboard was a place where lots of people could take a year or two to learn the working of the union and then, in the spirit of step up/step back, step down and let others fill their spot.

Clearly USEJ/SWITCh represents business unionism, where a top-down approach is used to "get things for the members" instead of getting members themselves involved. Business unionism is more of an advocacy model, doing something FOR someone, its like providing a service. AWDU's model has been social movement unionism, where the focus is on grassroots organizing and participatory democracy. AWDU knows that a strong union isn't just one with high membership numbers but zero involvement, it is one where the union organizes members to get them involved in on-the-ground action to pressure management.

The biggest difference by far has been that for the first time ever in the history of the UAW 2865 there was open bargaining thanks to the AWDU bargaining team. AWDU is for inclusion because they believe in participation. This is why AWDU lead campuses had HUGE turnouts when bargaining came to their campus, with over 100 people coming to bargaining at UCLA, UCSC, UCB, and UCD.

While USEJ/SWITCh lead campuses like UCR had less than 10 people come to bargaining, and UCSB where AWDU members of the Bargaining Team had to pressure Rob Ackermann to get members to the bargaining room on the day of bargaining, and in all maybe 20-30 showed up in a last minute organizing attempt.

Inclusion means participation, and USEJ/SWITCh doesn't encourage or even value member participation.

First off, the implication here is that they are fighting for transparency, which implies that AWDU isn't transparent. So let's look at AWDU's record on this:

The following are some reforms that were enacted under AWDU to increase transparency:

  • Campus autonomy in communications: campus leadership can send emails to their campus membership without approval of the eboard. This allows the membership to hear from multiple viewpoints, especially if the campus and statewide leadership have differing opinions or priorities.
  • Open bargaining: I can't stress enough how important this is. Previously members were not allowed in the bargaining room and could only rely on the word of the bargaining team as to what transpired. We also extensively used social media to give updates, including live updates from the bargaining room on Twitter. I even created a Twitter account (which I had vowed never to do) explicitly for this purpose.
  • A contract campaign listserve: so rank-and-file members could be part of internal discussions about the contract campaign. (Unfortunately this had to be abandoned in December after people leaked bargaining strategy publicly on a partisan blog along with accusations of unfair labor practices that if were true could have seriously hurt our position in negotiations.)
  • Contract Campaign Strategy Meeting open to all members: Because AWDU views member participation as the foundation of a winning strategy we had a statewide meeting to plan out contract campaign actions that was open to all members to participate in the planning of these actions. Again, this flies in the face of the closed bargaining of all previous leaderships (*cough John Gust cough*). Furthermore Struna and Ackermann boycotted this planning meeting, both to try to score political points and because their vision of a winning strategy doesn't include on the ground pressure, only their heroic action in the bargaining room. Their previous reinvention, Paycheck First posted about this, so my parody site Paycheck Only had to post about it as well.
  • Shared power and knowledge on the eboard: this allowed for all members of the eboard to have to know of and a majority to approve of things that previously only the president had to know of or approve of. This is a great step toward transparency because if the eboard is populated with people from different caucuses then there is no way one caucus can keep the other in the dark about the actions of the president.
  • Eboard meetings were noticed to and open to all members: Yes they are boring and bureaucratic, but I actually attended one that was at Davis. The eboard rotated meetings among the different campuses so all members had a chance to attend them.

What's their record?

First off, John Gust was part of the old leadership and the 2010 bargaining team that had closed bargaining. Maybe not all members of SWITCh agree with closed bargaining, but why would they allow John Gust on their ticket - as financial secretary! - if they feel so strongly about transparency as to put it in their name?

Secondly, why the rebranding? There is literally no mention of their connection to USEJ (well at least at the time of this posting, maybe I can shame them into changing that!) or Paycheck First (which they have still never admitted to, though if you read it the rhetoric mirrors that of SWITCh). Seems to me like they aren't about transparency when it comes to their history.

Thirdly, if they are so concerned with transparency then why the lies, distortions, and exaggerations on their blog? Here's two painfully obvious examples (I don't have time to respond to every single thing on their site):

  •  "The “Academic Workers for a Democratic Union” or AWDU is a caucus within the union for UC Teaching Assistants, Graduate Student Instructors, Tutors, and Readers, UAW 2865. AWDU took control of the union in the 2011 elections promising to “democratize” the organization, to end oppression, to promote mass participation of student workers and radically restructure UC, California, and the economy." They actually wrote this on their blog. OK so you claim to be for transparency yet you can't even e trusted to provide basic historical facts. AWDU never promise to end capitalism and oppression globally, but they did promise to get involved in struggles to end oppression and exploitation and defend public education. 
  • "AWDU’s actions since taking power, however, have spoken much louder than their lofty campaign promises. They cannot point to record of meaningful accomplishments." On the same page as the above quote. This was published the same day that the AWDU dominated bargaining team won the right to access all-gender bathrooms. I guess that SWITCh doesn't consider that to be "meaningful". We do. We also consider our involvement in the student occupy movement that halted proposed 81% tuition hikes a meaningful accomplishment. We also consider the elimination of yearly pharmaceutical and lifetime healthcare caps on the UC Student Health Insurance Plan (UCSHIP) a meaningful change. We were the ones who spearheaded and lead that campaign, working with UCSA and the Sacramento legislature. We have already got a higher wage offer than the previous bargaining team (again looking at you John Gust!). The previous contract settled for 2%/year and we already have got an offer for 3%/year and we are still bargaining for more. We consider that meaningful change. We have gone on strike in support of UC service and patient care workers in AFSCME 3299. On Nov 20th we went on sympathy strike, helping add further pressure to UC admin to settle a fair contract for these already grossly undercompensated workers. Gust, Ackermann, and Struna all voted in opposition of letting the contract expire - which was the only reason we were able to go on sympathy strike. USEJ/SWITCh argued that the ability to strike wasn't worth losing independent arbitration (we wouldn't lose arbitration it would just go to the Public Employee Relations Board instead and grievances that go to arbitration come up very rarely). We argued that the ability to fight and to engage in solidarity actions outweighed that minor bureaucratic loss. We consider that meaningful change, so does AFSCME 3299.
They misrepresent their history, they misrepresent AWDU, and for people who prioritize transparency they don't have a single link to AWDU's blog on their entire site. The spirit of transparency is believing that well informed people will make able to see that the truth is on your side, but clearly SWITCh doesn't think that the truth is on their side, so they choose to hide it. I however have linked extensively to their blog, to their past blogs, and other materials so that you can go read it all for yourself and make up your mind. THAT is transparency.

So what does SWITCh really stand for?

By now it should be obvious that they are not about inclusion or transparency, so what are they actually for then?

"The union needs both to stop involving itself in global political issues, where it has no influence and divides the students it supposedly represents..." 

"The reality is that the University of California wants successful graduate students who go out into the world and make a name for the University. The question is how to ensure that we help them understand the tools we need to make that happen..."

These are from the SWITCh candidate statements and I think they reveal what kind of unionism they stand for- business unionism. That means a type of unionism that only focuses on bread and butter issues (Paycheck First!), is top-down, and is typically concessionary - i.e. the type of unionism that we had before AWDU and that produced the member unrest that created AWDU. 

To the comment that we need to stop involving the union or taking stances on "divisive issues", sorry but all oppressions are connected. Our members are women, people of color, queer, trans*, immigrants, and more, and they face multiple oppressions, so focusing only on issues that aren't divisive - paychecks and a better grievance process - ignores their lived experience and makes them feel like the union isn't for them.

To the comment that the role of the union should be to collaborate with the UC. Sorry, but management doesn't have our best interests at heart - they fought TA unionization since early attempts in the 1960's and after the passage of HEERA which allowed for public employee unions at universities in California they still fought unionization for 20 years! They are still fighting against Research Assistant unionization. Our relationship wth the UC is that we are cheap labor. It is an antagonistic relationship by nature. 

So what kind of union are they describing. One that focuses only on membership numbers (aka DUES for the UAW International), doesn't get involved in "controversial issues", and works WITH management instead of fighting on the ground against the administration for a better university and workplace.

Vote for AWDU this election, but even more importantly get involved however you can. Come to meetings to learn about the campaigns we are involved in or suggest campaigns for us to get involved in.

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1 comment:

  1. Follow-up: After SWITCh lost to AWDU in the 2865 elections Rob Ackermann has now taken a PAID organizer position with UAW 5810 (the UC post-doc researcher union).

    Yup. Called it.