In our local’s triennial elections on April 26-28th, AWDU will be running a slate of candidates for the executive board of our local, in addition to many candidates for unit leadership positions. AWDU’s founding purpose is to create a more democratically structured and functioning union, one which is run by its rank-and-file members. We believe that putting power in the members’ hands will create the kind of union that can best respond to members’ needs and is most powerful in fighting for and protecting our rights as workers.
At this moment of renewed attacks against public education, public workers, and all working people in our country, we need a union with functioning structures, that is responsive to its membership, and that empowers its members to take leadership and fight back. We offer these positions on reform to make clear that voting for the AWDU slate is not just about bringing in new leadership, but rather bringing in a new leadership whose goal will be to enact these changes and help to build a bottom-up union.
Because “union democracy” is not an empty phrase for us, here are concrete ideas for how we would democratize our union and transform it into a better organized and more efficient body and a space for genuine rank-and-file participation:
1. Decentralization of power and resources to give campus units a real voice
a. Our bylaws state: “The membership is the highest authority of this Local Union.”
We want to make this true in practice. Before AWDU began organizing, membership meetings were almost empty, almost all steward positions and dozens of head steward positions were empty, the meetings of the Joint Council were a formality, and the vast majority of decisions were made by the President, sometimes by the Executive Board. Members face problems in their departments and on their campuses every day, and they should be able to organize at a local level. They should not have to seek the approval of the president, but should be able to get support from the statewide local.
b. The AWDU slate will work to return control of the local to where it should be: the members and the stewards.
To accomplish this we will we will change the bylaws to disallow decision-making on the part of the President between executive board meetings. In so far as is possible within the limitations of the UAW international Constitution, this will allow us to create a system in which each Eboard member is empowered equally to share the responsibilities for catalyzing member involvement and supporting member driven projects. Any decisions made by the executive board will require a quorum to be binding. Further, the principle goal of our executive board would be to assist the organizing work of the campus units, to carry out their decisions, and to facilitate communication between campuses, not to set strategy.
c. To enable organizing at the campus level, each campus unit should have an operating budget to be used at the discretion of that unit’s membership.
Organizing needs often arise quickly, and we recognize that democratic decision-making is messier and slower than top-down decision-making. But the extreme centralization of our local makes it often impossible for member initiatives to get off the ground in a timely manner. Each unit should have a yearly budget to work with to fund events and organizing drives. The use of these funds should be proposed and approved by the membership meetings or the campus leadership, as that unit decides.
2. Developing a rank-and-file Stewards Network at every campus
a. Stewards are the eyes and ears of the union and are needed in every department and program.
Our bylaws allow for one steward to every 50 ASEs and one head steward to every 200, yet for years we have had only a handful of head stewards and almost no regular stewards. An active body of stewards is the best way to ensure active communication between members and the leadership of the union. Stewards understand the specific conditions of members in differing fields. Because the department is the organizing structure of our lives as students and employees, we believe stewards should be elected by departments and accountable to them. A network of stewards on each campus could coordinate and cooperate on campus organizing issues and communicate these issues to the leadership.
The AWDU slate would continue to educate members about the important role of stewards, and to encourage members who are leaders in their departments to become stewards and develop stewards networks.
3. Prioritize and foster member participation and decision-making
a. The current leadership has not effectively engaged members in the work of the union.
AWDU believes that union strength comes from an active and engaged membership. We are committed to fostering multiple avenues for meaningful participation – accessible membership meetings, widespread departmental meetings, an active stewards network and a responsive Joint Council. These organizational changes will enable members to engage with the union in a variety of ways – from serving as an elected representative to volunteering at events to serving on committees. We know that creating inclusive spaces which support meaningful participation requires a commitment to encouraging diverse perspectives with particular attention to fostering involvement from under-represented communities.
b. The unit and statewide membership meetings are critical for genuine participatory democracy.
The current leadership insists on making decisions at the Eboard or poorly attended and unrepresentative JC meetings. Under the incumbent leadership, campus membership meetings were poorly advertised, poorly attended and were not spaces which fostered member participation. We believe that campuses should have more autonomy to make decisions and run campaigns on their campus. Members should also have a meaningful voice in decisions which affect their work and research, like contract enforcement, contract negotiations, strategies to address the budget cuts, and plans to confront attacks by UC management.
The AWDU slate will, as it has been doing in the campuses where AWDU is strong, promote and advertise the membership meetings, providing members all the information necessary for them to understand the issues at stake and participate in decision-making. But most importantly, the AWDU slate will turn membership meetings into decision-making spaces for union business so members can have a real voice in their union.
c. Political positions, endorsements, contributions, and solidarity actions should be proposed and decided by the membership.
In current practice these decisions are made by the President and two Vice-Presidents, who direct the VCAP funds not only of our local, but of this entire region of the UAW. Political positions should not be the individual decision of the E-Board, the members must decide.
The AWDU slate will encourage campus units to discuss and decide upon their involvement in local politics and community issues. Proposals for statewide or national positions could be proposed by campuses to the statewide bodies and by statewide membership meetings.
4. Empowering rank-and-file members to be more active and run their own union
a. We believe members and stewards on each campus should be able to run their campus units and that members are the best organizers.
We commit to working to transform our union into a member-driven union, and will work to lessen our dependence on paid union staff for organizing and representation. An important step toward this goal is building strong stewards networks; another is empowering campus-level membership to determine organizing goals and take on campaigns and other projects. Determining the proper and limited role of paid staff in the administration of our union is an important and difficult task, and one that must involve ongoing dialogue with as many members as possible.
The AWDU slate will work with members on all campuses to determine a staffing structure that keeps power in members’ hands, and most effectively empowers us to transform our working lives. Proposals for changing staffing structure will be discussed on all campuses and ratified at a statewide membership meeting.
The AWDU slate would work to create multiple paid positions from 10%-50% appointments to support elected leadership and rank-and-file organizers on each campus, so that members will have material support which allows them to give time and energy to running their union.
In addition, we will aspire to develop a system where all staff will be thoroughly beholden to the power of campus based as well as statewide elected leaders and the membership. In general, we hope to check the potential for abusive power among paid staff whether or not they are elected or members
b. International staff have a history of playing a divisive role in our local.
We in AWDU are still studying the relationships between UAW International staff and local leaderships in other locals. We hope to find a healthy model in which international staff could support coordinating activities between our local and other locals. But our members and elected leaders alone would set priorities for political action, organizing, and structural reform of our local union. However, many of the International staff are former members of our local who continue to exercise political leadership in the local rather than assisting the local members to coordinate with other locals.
Therefore, we will request International staff only be assigned to support coordination between our local and other locals and insist that membership can request a new representative from the International if we are unable to work with one assigned.
c. The three year term for elected positions in our local is prohibitive for many members.
Though prescribed by the constitution of the UAW, it is unrealistic for our members, given the varying lengths of time that we work at UC, to hold elected positions in the union for three years. Especially for paid union positions, a member in a three year position risks sacrificing the quality of their academic work and losing touch with the issues and situations of other members.
The AWDU slate would propose a practice of stepping down and having a vacancy election after one year. People could then run again in that vacancy election if they choose for only one or two years.