Former Berkeley Unit Chair on why to vote NO

1 Dec

(from AWaDU):

The union leadership has been attempting to scare voters into ratifying this contract, arguing that 1) if we don’t we’ll end up in impasse and 2) the economic climate is too bad to win anything more. Union members–including current and former elected officials–from around the state who know that this is not the whole truth are stepping up to say what’s really going on. Read this letter from a former unit chair from Berkeley. His letter is just one example out of countless that show that it is the standard practice of our local to keep members uninformed and to keep involvement controlled.

It’s up to us, now, to finally change this, and the first step is by voting NO on this contract and fighting for a better one!

“I realize there is some confusion around the vote this week to ratify the proposed contract. As a former member of the bargaining committee responsible for the contract, I am in a better position than most to shed some light on the issue. I have been reluctant to do so for personal reasons, and I apologize for not sending this out before the voting began.

“The year before last I became, almost accidentally, first the acting then the elected Chair of the UAW for Berkeley. I was recruited to this position and agreed to it without much understanding what it entailed. This seems to be standard MO for the current statewide leadership; after I had agreed to stand for the position it was hinted to me that nefarious and disruptive people might try to challenge me for what is, after all, an elected position. As it turns out, no one did, I was “elected” by all of you without you having any idea, unless you actually read all those emails full of dense and formal bureaucracy-speak that you receive on a regular basis, and the leadership avoided having to deal with anyone who might make waves.

“My position made me a member of the bargaining committee, and we prepared to negotiate a contract last year. Days before the first meeting with the University, in the midst of what was then the still-unfolding budgetary crisis, the state-wide president (do you know who your union president is? did you vote for her?) suggested we take the university’s offer of a one-year extension of the current contract with no changes at all. This was presented as fait accompli at a meeting of the committee, and we voted unanimously to accept it.

“In the aftermath of all of that, I became increasingly frustrated with how poorly the union represented its members, how shockingly little democracy was actually involved, how easily the state-wide leadership quashed any dissent, and how wholly it bought into the University’s antagonistic relationship while capitulating on a regular basis to the University’s interests. I was in the perfect position to do something about this, but I was not the individual to do it for a variety of reasons. Clearly, that is why I was put in the position to begin with. So I resigned, and as I did so, I urged various people to step in and do what I was unwilling to do. I’m not proud of all of this, but I do have the satisfaction of knowing that Berkeley’s current representatives are a force for agitation among the state-wide leadership, and I support them.

“Now, the University really is a vicious negotiator. You will note that we are only now, in the last week of November, voting on a contract, while these negotiations began last Spring and the previous contract expired at the end of September. You probably heard something about the switching of “fees” for “tuition” and whether or not that would invalidate our guaranteed fee remissions, a well-timed announcement that now puts the union in the position of touting as a win what is actually a holding of the status quo. The bargaining committee is not made up of evil people, nor are they secretly trying to shore up the UC’s bottom line at our expense; I’m sure they really believe that this is the best contract they can get. But they are tired of the process, they have been skillfully manipulated by the University, and they are actively quashing efforts to allow debate among the actual membership of the union around this contract.

“Thus you are receiving two sets of messages. One comes via the official union channels, urging you to vote Yes on the contract. The other comes from your actual campus union representatives, who are members of the bargaining committee but who refused to sign the provisional contract and are urging you to vote No.

“If you vote Yes, you will see virtually no changes. You will get a 2% raise, which — I assume you know — will not put you near what you would receive at a peer institution. If you have children in child care, your reimbursement will jump from $450 per semester to $900, from the actively insulting to the merely inadequate (full-time daycare for one child starts around $1000 per month). That’s it. No health care for dependents. No out-of-state fee remissions for international students who can never be in-state residents.

“If you vote No, the hapless committee will be back at the bargaining table and the University will have to consider the actively expressed displeasure of crucial employees. They can’t take things off the table that are already on it. They can’t roll back our wages. Since this contract gains nothing, we risk nothing by refusing it. We deserve better.

“In the short term, I urge you to vote against this contract. In the long term, I hope you will support the (re)democratization of the union and even consider getting involved.”



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