Reformers gain strength in America’s largest grad union as UC budget fight looms

Current UAW 2865 administration bars 4 reform candidates from running, withdraws its own candidates – averting a contested election against reformers.

Unions representing graduate students have garnered little public attention in the fight over the University of California and the state’s budget crisis.  But a major reform effort within UAW Local 2865 is on the verge of putting the academic student employee union front and center.

The reformers’ push for change in UAW 2865 caused an historic election to be scheduled for the union’s Joint Council and Executive Board on February 15th and 16th.  The reformers, calling themselves Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU), organized a slate of 26 candidates.  But the current UAW 2865 administration barred 4 reform candidates from running and then withdrew its own candidates, preventing a contested election against the reformers.

The victory by the reformers gives them 31 seats the local’s 70 member Joint Council – its highest elected body.  Reformers aim for an even greater transformation of the union in its regular election this May, when all of the union’s officials’ terms will expire.

Reformers hope to make the union – which boasts 12,000 members and a $2 million annual budget – into an organization that could support and help sustain the mass protests at UC that they have helped organize since the fall of 2009.  The stakes are high, given Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed $1.4 billion cut to higher education in California.

“Undergrads are already suffering from crowded classrooms and from their instructors’ economic insecurity and out-of-control workloads.  We need investment in UC to solve California’s budget crisis by creating new jobs and innovations that grow our economy,” said Cheryl Deutsch, a UC Irvine graduate student and union Trustee-elect.

Reformers had already made headway, organizing protests and pressure on UC during fall contract negotiations and for the Oct 7th day of action.  On Saturday, January 30th, the union’s Joint Council voted to adopt the reformers’ proposed statement endorsing the March 2nd Day of Action to oppose cuts and the privatization of UC.

Elections for seats on the Joint Council are rarely contested, and many seats are often left unfilled.  But with a reform movement underway, the current union administration recruited dozens of candidates to run against the reformers.  The reform victory adds a new twist to the brewing fight over state budgets in California and across the country.

UAW Local 2865 is America’s largest academic student employee union, representing 12,000 graduate student instructors, teaching assistants, readers, and undergraduate tutors.


Reform Candidates from Groups Affiliated with Academic Workers for a Democratic Union for positions on the Joint Council of UAW Local 2865

Trustee Elect – Cheryl Deutsch, UC Irvine, Anthropology

Trustee Elect – Charlie Eaton, UC Berkeley, Sociology

Trustee Candidate Barred from Ballot – Jessy  Lancaster, UC Santa Cruz, Psychology

UCB – Campus Chair Elect – Jennifer Tucker

UCB – Head Steward Candidate Barred from Ballot – Cate Talley, Comparative Literature

UCB – Head Steward Elect – Pablo Gaston, Sociology

UCB – Head Steward Elect – Megan Wachspress, Jurisprudence and Social Policy

UCB – Head Steward Elect – Manuel Rosaldo, Sociology

UCB – Head Steward  Elect – Blanca Misse, French

UCB – Head Steward  Candidate Barred from Ballot – Katy Fox Hodess, Sociology

UCB – Head Steward  Elect – Micki McCoy, History of Art

UCB – Head Steward  Elect – Amanda Cook, Sociology

UCD – Head Steward Elect – Tom O’Donnell

UCI – Recording Secretary Elect – Jordan Brocious

UCI –  Head Steward  Elect – Seneca Lindsey, Earth System Science

UCI –  Head Steward  Elect – Robert Wood, Comparative Literature

UCI –  Head Steward  Elect – Veronique Fortin, Criminology Law and Society

UCI –  Head Steward  Elect – Fabio Chee, Spanish and Portuguese

UCLA – Head Steward Elect – Alexei Nowak, Comparative Literature

UCLA – Head Steward Elect – Kyle Arnone, Sociology

UCLA – Head Steward Elect – Hadley Suter, French

UCLA – Head Steward Elect – Jeremy Schmidt, English

UCR – Head Steward Elect – Bryan Ziadie, Comparative Literature

UCR – Head Steward Elect – Elliot Kim, History

UCSD – Head Steward Candidate Barred from Ballot – Megan Turner, Comparative Literature

UCSD – Head Steward Elect – Barbara Bush, Communications

UCSC – Head Steward Elect – Michelle Glowa

Candidate Statements by Reformers for UAW Local 2865 Statewide Executive Board Positions

Cheryl Deutsch, UC Irvine – Candidate Statement for Trustee

I’m running to reform our union.  As an activist with the state-wide reform movement, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWaDU), I know  our union can do better.  Our union can be a force to be reckoned with in the debates over budget cuts, fee hikes, and the apportionment of resources on our campuses and throughout the UC system.  Our union should fight to keep class sizes down, to keep graduate student housing affordable, and to improve our health and childcare benefits.  But our public strength as a union is only as good as our internal strength, and our union has a long way to go in that regard.  I’m committed to building a stronger union through greater transparency, communication, and open decision-making.

A second-year PhD student in Anthropology at UC Irvine, I became a Head Steward last year when I saw that our campus suffered from a severe shortage of elected representatives.  As a newly elected officer, however, I was given no support from the statewide union leadership. Still, I worked with our campus Recording Secretary to organize departmental meetings about healthcare negotiations, as well as a grade-in to raise awareness about the work we do as TAs/GSIs.  We created a Facebook group for easy communication with our membership and revitalized monthly membership meetings: moving them back on campus to convenient times and locations.  In order to build rank-and-file power, I also began organizing weekly meetings this fall: as rank-and-file members organized under the banner of Academic Workers for a Democratic University (AWaDU), we spread the word about contract negotiations through departmental listservs, information panels organized by student associations, our Facebook group, a new blog, and an op-ed in our campus newspaper.  As a result, turn-out in the contract ratification vote was almost ten times higher than any union election in recent memory.

I’m running for Trustee in order to bring these practices of transparency and communication to our union as a whole.  In the name of better transparency, I’m committed to making sure that you know who your elected union officers are: publishing their photos and individual contact information on our union’s website. I will also work to improve communication within and from the union, so that you, as members, have relevant, substantive information you can use.  My vision is for a union whose presence on every campus makes it a resource and a venue in which to discuss and take action on issues that are important to you.  Finally, I’m concerned about our union’s dependence on non-student paid staff for organizing work; paid staff who are not answerable or even available to our membership.  I’m committed to making ours a more democratic union, and, as Trustee, I will work to ensure that our union is run by students for the benefit of students.


Charlie Eaton, UC Berkeley – Candidate Statement for Trustee

I am running for Trustee because our university is in crisis, and we need major changes.  I have worked for 10 years to help make this kind of change, first as a union organizer and now as a graduate student in Sociology at UC Berkeley.

I believe our union could be a force for livable wages, affordable housing, and childcare for student workers.  I believe we could help stop the fee hikes, budget cuts, power grabs by UC executives, and growing class sizes.  Public investment in UC could be part of a long-term solution to California’s budget crisis by creating new jobs and innovations that grow our economy.

But I think we can only make these changes with a movement that harnesses the broad public support for UC and stops business-as-usual at the university until state and UC officials agree to what we need.  As a union, we could be a critical part of such a movement.  To me, this would take welcoming more involvement from of our members and making our union stronger and more democratic.

I have worked actively to strengthen our union and make it more democratic.  I joined Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) in November and opposed our most recent proposed contract with UC.  I thought we needed to give members a chance to fight for wages that keep up with the cost of living, guaranteed remission of all fees, and more adequate childcare subsidies.  I have since then helped organize meetings with more than 100 members at UCLA, UCSD, UC Irvine, and UC Merced to invite them to get involved in our union.  As Trustee, I will advocate on our union Executive Board to create the space for all members to participate in key decisions about how our union will build student and worker power to fight the cuts and protect our rights.  This practice of democratic exchange can create better ideas and plans that more of our members will want to carry out.

In working to involve more members, I have tried to learn from other student activists and from my past organizing.  As a student organizer with Jobs with Justice in 2002, I organized a successful campaign by students and workers at the City University of New York to win in-state tuition rates for undocumented students and protect financial aid.  In organizing marches by thousands of students, hunger strikes, and civil disobedience, I learned to work with diverse student organizations on CUNY’s campuses.  In 2005, I saw how powerful decisions made by members can be when I helped organize a successful strike by housekeeping and dietary workers in Chico California with SEIU – United Healthcare Workers.  I saw this again in 2006 when I helped 10,000 homecare workers in Fresno bargain a contract that won dental benefits and a 20% wage increase over two years.

As Trustee, I hope I can work with you as well to build a more democratic, member-driven union.


Jessy Lancaster, UC Santa Cruz – Candidate Statement for Trustee

I’m a reform candidate of AWDU running for Trustee, and I believe that through reform our union can become a force of good to help both our members and our university. My vision of what the union can become includes member-driven ideas and actions, more transparency in decision-making, and a more democratic approach to everything we do as a union.

I am a fifth year psychology student at Santa Cruz. I have been the recording secretary at Santa Cruz for over a year, and have had a chance to see how the union is run. I think members ought to be where our power comes from – we need a membership that is informed and involved. I am committed to actively engaging and listening to members.


One Response to “Reformers gain strength in America’s largest grad union as UC budget fight looms”


  1. Elected by Acclamation? That sounds great! When did I vote? « Academic Workers for a Democratic Union - February 6, 2011

    […] Joint Council—though the Executive Board remains firmly against our efforts. Here’s the press release we sent out about these “election […]

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