NYU AWDU is Shrinking

In spite of the ongoing controversy about the elections, in the long term the most important lesson from them is that NYU AWDU’s level of support from the GSOC membership is shrinking dramatically, as demonstrated by the absolute numbers in the invalid elections for steward and Joint Council.

Of course the NYU AWDU candidates won the votes by overwhelming margins-they were the only ones who campaigned! Virtually all the other candidates indicated that they would not campaign because they did not consider the elections legitimate.

But NYU AWDU’s claim that the candidate elections represented a “high voter turnout showing a clear democratic mandate” is as true as…anything else it puts out. First of all, “38% of our current membership” is a totally meaningless number. Remember that any graduate student at NYU except MBA students at Stern can sign a card and vote under the current GSOC Bylaws. That’s about 20,000 people.

How many of those actually voted in these elections? 645 people voted on the first BDS question. On the reasonable assumptions that almost no one who voted for candidates did not also vote in the BDS referendum, and that almost no one who voted on the second BDS question did not also vote on the first BDS question, that means about 650-700 people total voted in these elections, less than five percent of those who could have done so. Working backwards, that means our “current membership” is about 1,700-less than 10% of those who could sign a membership card under our Bylaws.

But the absolute numbers in the steward and Joint Council elections are much lower than the number who participated in the BDS vote. Of course, that’s partly because there was no on-line voting. Nevertheless, the most recent previous GSOC election was the September 2014 Bargaining Committee election, and it involved no referendum. It was in-person for only one day, yet there were still over 600 total votes.

This time, in the steward elections for both the humanities and social sciences and the professional schools districts, less than a hundred people showed up to vote in each district. For the humanities and social sciences district, this represents probably less than five percent, and for the professional schools district definitely less than one percent of those who could have signed cards and voted. The humanities and social sciences district contains several departments that constitute NYU AWDU’s historic base of support, while the turnout in the professional schools district is consistent with the idea that almost everyone in the department of Media, Culture, and Communication (and almost no one else) voted from that huge district.

Turnout only reached the triple-digits for the Joint Council elections. I’m actually moved that a couple dozen people bothered to vote for me in an election in which I myself said I wasn’t campaigning because I thought it was illegitimate. This is as strong evidence as there could be that I do have a constituency in GSOC, even if it is presently a minority constituency, further supporting my claim that for me to be one Joint Council delegate is not only a procedurally but also a substantively democratic outcome.

For the Joint Council, Claudia Carrera got the most votes with 205, about one percent of those who could have signed cards and voted.

NYU AWDU thinks these numbers represent “high voter turnout.” What would low voter turnout be?

The fact that the absolute number of Joint Council votes was so much higher than the absolute number of votes in either contested steward district is interesting. It suggests that around half the voters for Joint Council came from the natural sciences or the NYU Tandon School of Engineering despite the fact that none of the candidates did. But the fact that none of the NYU AWDU candidates for Joint Council were from the sciences or Tandon casts doubt on the view that there is strong ideological support for the caucus’s positions against Local 2110 in those departments, further discrediting the interpretation that the turnout represents a strong mandate against the Local’s positions on membership eligibility. Rather, NYU AWDU got some votes out of those departments because it was the only caucus that campaigned there. Alternately, the Votes Committee may simply have misreported some of the numbers.

In the Fall 2015 Bylaws referendum, which was a week-long, online vote, NYU AWDU was similarly able to turn out about 200 people total in support of its positions against Local 2110. One percent of those who could sign a card and vote is very far from a democratic mandate to overturn core principles of a Local with decades of militant and successful history, but this seems to be where NYU AWDU has maxed out this academic year, in contrast to the over 400 people it was able to turn out to vote for its candidates in last year’s contested Bargaining Committee elections. This suggests that the half-life of NYU AWDU is about a year. A slate of candidates who actually did campaign could very plausibly defeat NYU AWDU in a contested election sometime relatively soon.





Six More Irregularities in the GSOC Elections

For a caucus that repeats the word “democracy” like a weird cultish mantra, NYU AWDU is really bad at running elections with even the appearance of fairness. This is a mere sampler platter of election irregularities by the NYU AWDU leadership of GSOC, there are probably many others.

The Votes Committee has said it is “tired” and will respond to me next week. I hope it dreams about the following:

  1. The Votes Committee was openly partisan. Shelly Ronen, the chair of the Votes Committee, gave an extensive interview that led to a highly inaccurate story in the Electronic Intifada while the election was still ongoing. Of the members of the Votes Committee, not one openly opposes BDS while to my knowledge almost all either openly or privately support it. Furthermore, nearly every member of the Votes Committee has either run as an NYU AWDU candidate, campaigned for NYU AWDU candidates, or gotten a union staff position as a result of the support of the NYU AWDU caucus.
  2. Candidates asked to have their names removed from the ballots, and this request was neither granted nor was the membership informed that it had been made. This may not violate some specific bylaw, but it’s certainly bizarre. Up till now, the GSOC leadership still has not admitted that virtually all the candidates who did not run on the NYU AWDU slate respect the Local’s authority over elections and did not want to participate in the rogue GSOC elections. This was a desperate attempt to preserve the illusion of legitimate elections for as long as possible instead of delaying the elections as would have been the responsible course of action.
  3. The ballot was not announced until the day before the election itself. This is not sufficient notice for a fair election, especially under such strange circumstances.
  4. The eligibility rules used for the Joint Council were not in accordance even with the notice of nomination sent out by the GSOC leadership itself. Aside from the disagreement between NYU AWDU and the Local about membership eligibility, the Votes Committee also did not stick to the requirements in GSOC’s own notice of nomination and election, which requires that candidates be “bargaining unit members in good standing.” You are not a bargaining unit member in good standing if you have never been a dues-paying member! Nevertheless, the Votes Committee placed on the ballot the names of several candidates who have not contested the Local’s claim that they were never dues-paying members of the union. Applying a different set of rules than was publicly announced is totally illegitimate.
  5. Only two vacancies were announced in the notice of nomination for the GSAS Humanities and Social Sciences district, but today three people were announced as having been elected. Oops!
  6. The Votes Committee did not immediately and publicly refute the false and outrageous claims of Zionist conspiracy circulated by the NYU AWDU caucus. A member of the Votes Committee has admitted to me privately that she knows there was no Zionist conspiracy. I hope she will say so publicly as well, since the Votes Committee as a whole has shown that it is unlikely to go against its friends in the NYU AWDU caucus. An election in which some of the candidates were singled out on the basis of their identities and political affiliations, and in which the Committee that should be responsible for clearly stating the actual facts regarding these false and groundless claims fails to do so, is not fair, democratic, or consistent with any reasonable definition of social justice.

First Response to NYU AWDU and GSOC Members for BDS Press Release

I am very grateful to NYU AWDU for the first of its two recent press releases regarding the elections, which demonstrates the one consistent value the caucus actually holds: complete indifference to what is actually true or false so long as enough people believe its narrative to be true. This value is evident in its most typical dismissal of me and my arguments, namely that I have never won an election. I used to be puzzled by this response until I realized that this is in fact all that NYU AWDU supporters have ever meant by “democracy”: if enough people believe something to be true, then it is true regardless of any other considerations. By this logic, no matter what the merits of an opposing claim or strength of evidence in support of it, it will be untrue until enough relevant people also believe it is true. There is no need to engage the merit of opposing claims but only to repeat one’s own claims until they are accepted as fact by a sufficient number of people.

Needless to say, these are not supposed to be the values of the university. But they are on full display in this press release, which alleges that the elections by acclamation were an attempt to install “Zionists” and “silence support for BDS.” Despite the utter lack of any evidence whatsoever in support of these outrageous claims, they have been uncritically and irresponsibly repeated not only by other graduate students but also by Professor Andrew Ross in an egregious abuse of faculty power and interference in the internal affairs of a labor union representing graduate student workers. Professor Ross is now circulating a petition among faculty encouraging them to take NYU AWDU’s side in this internal union dispute.

I will publish a much longer line-by-line response soon, but in the meantime I want to address the central claim about a Zionist conspiracy. There is simply no support for such a claim, and in fact it is wildly implausible in the light of the publicly available evidence. Four of five Joint Council delegates (including me) and four of ten stewards elected by acclamation have signed the GSOC petition in favor of BDS. Only three are affiliated with the anti-BDS GSOC for Open Dialogue caucus. Supporters of BDS continue to hold a large majority of the Assembly of Stewards and they are now a majority of the Joint Council delegation as well. If this was a Zionist conspiracy, it was remarkably poorly executed!

The reality is rather more pedestrian than the sensationalist accusation. There has been a dispute for about a year between the NYU AWDU leadership of the GSOC bargaining unit and the leadership of Local 2110 regarding membership eligibility. UAW Local 2110’s criterion for graduate student worker eligibility, articulated repeatedly in official communications to the GSOC Unit Representatives at least since August, was that someone had to have worked under the contract and been a dues-paying union member in either Fall 2015 or Spring 2016 in order to be eligible for a position. This criterion is more flexible than that used for other workplaces in our union, and probably well over a thousand people were eligible for less than two dozen positions according to this definition. Nevertheless, this did not satisfy NYU AWDU, which went ahead with unit Bylaws under which working in the bargaining unit is irrelevant to union membership. This created massive confusion such that both pro-BDS and anti-BDS candidates who were eligible under the unit but not under the Local Bylaws submitted nominations.

Whatever one’s opinion regarding the Local’s membership eligibility definition, there is no evidence whatsoever that it was unevenly applied. When one pro-BDS candidate was erroneously omitted from the first notice despite having submitted a nomination and being eligible, this was immediately corrected. No other candidate has alleged further errors of this sort.

The NYU AWDU leadership of GSOC went ahead with rogue elections whose results will not be recognized by Local 2110. NYU AWDU is very likely to win its own invalid elections in which the names of candidates who have not worked in the bargaining unit and paid union dues are appearing on the ballot. A significant number of the candidates, including both candidates elected by acclamation and candidates disqualified by the Local, have already stated that they do not want to participate in these elections and will not accept their legitimacy. The matter is likely to be settled through the UAW’s own internal processes and Public Review Board or through another appropriate legal process.

Again, regardless of one’s position about what the membership eligibility definition should be, the accusation of a Zionist conspiracy is groundless and morally repugnant. The UAW and Local 2110 have done nothing at all to prevent or discourage the BDS vote from occurring (it is still ongoing). If Local 2110 had wanted to “silence support for BDS,” it is implausible to think that it would have attempted to do so by holding elections in which more pro-BDS than anti-BDS candidates were elected. Such a claim is deeply destructive and escalates the matter far beyond disagreements about bureaucratic issues such as membership eligibility. I am disgusted that colleagues who know or should know that these claims are groundless repeat them so flippantly without regard for their consequences for the future of the national movement to organize graduate student workers, adjuncts, and postdocs in which the UAW continues to play a leading role.

As a BDS supporter, I have always dismissed claims of anti-Semitism in the BDS movement. Confronted with a press release that so obviously appeals to fantasies of Zionist conspiracy with which I am familiar from my study of German philosophy and literature, I can no longer do so. I do not believe that the individuals responsible for this press release are personally anti-Semitic, but it is beyond doubt that the ready acceptance their claims have found in some quarters despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever to support them rests in part on such fantasies. This raises concerns about democracy and social justice far more grave than any presented by the issue of a membership eligibility definition.


A Tale of Two Emails: The Smoking Gun on Membership Eligibility

I have been doing some detective work and have confirmed that the Votes Committee’s claims that it was unclear which membership eligibility definitions Local 2110 would use are completely bogus. Not only were they articulated in official communications to stewards and Unit Representatives since August, they were actually also clear in every draft version of the notice of nomination for the GSOC bargaining unit, beginning with one provided by the Local and ending with the last version that the Votes Committee itself saw before the notice of nomination was sent to the GSOC listserv. Someone changed the relevant language at the last minute in the call for nominations sent to the entire GSOC membership.

On April 6 at 3:42 p.m., I as a member of the Votes Committee received an e-mail from Shelly Ronen entitled “Votes Comm.: Call for Nominations” that said “here is the text in its almost-final state.” In that text, the language for the steward positions said, “All members in good standing in the districts listed above who are not already stewards are automatically nominated to fill the position of steward in their district.” The language for the Joint Council positions said “All bargaining unit members in good standing for six months are automatically nominated to fill the position of Local 2110 Joint Council Delegate” (emphasis added for reasons that will become apparent). I can forward this email to anyone who wants to see it: it was the last version of the notice that I as a member of the Votes Committee saw before it was sent to the membership.

On April 6 at 10:51 p.m., I received the mass email to the GSOC listserv entitled in part “Call for Steward and Joint Council Nominations.” In that email, the language about eligibility had been changed dramatically. For stewards, it now said “All members eligible to work in the bargaining unit in the districts listed above who are not already stewards are automatically nominated to fill the position of steward in their district” (emphasis added). For Joint Council, it said “All bargaining unit members in good standing are automatically nominated to fill the position of Local 2110 Joint Council Delegate” (no more six-month requirement.)

(Incidentally this means that my election by acclamation to a Joint Council Delegate position is beyond dispute since even the notice sent by the GSOC leadership does not suggest that these positions are open to anyone eligible to work in the bargaining unit but rather only to “bargaining unit members.” You are not a bargaining unit member if you have never worked and been a dues-paying member under the contract, as is apparently the case for a number of the candidates who are likely to win the rogue elections for Joint Council that conclude today.)

Someone (Shelly? the Communications Committee?) changed the language in the notice from its “almost-final” version in the afternoon to the version actually sent out that night. And this change concerned precisely a central issue of contention between the GSOC bargaining unit and Local 2110. It’s no wonder members were confused! Someone in GSOC actively manipulated the process to introduce at the last minute language that contradicted Local 2110’s long-standing and oft-repeated position.

The claim that the Local used an unclear eligibility criterion to disenfranchise members based on caucus affiliation or support for BDS is being circulated wildly and irresponsibly. This sequence of events proves that that claim is untrue. It was someone in GSOC who introduced the lack of clarity by unilaterally changing the notice of nomination at the last minute.


Clarifications Regarding My Election to the UAW Local 2110 Joint Council

Last Friday, I was elected by acclamation to the Joint Council of UAW Local 2110 along with several colleagues affiliated with the NYU AWDU caucus. This was not the result of some Zionist conspiracy but instead of the application of a membership eligibility criterion under which some of the individuals who submitted their names were not eligible: having worked in the bargaining unit during this academic year. This has been UAW Local 2110’s position on membership eligibility stated in official communications with the GSOC Unit Representatives at least since August. The NYU AWDU caucus was well aware of this position and disagrees with it strongly, as its own platform very clearly indicates.

Nevertheless, some affiliated with the NYU AWDU caucus have maintained it was not clear which criteria would be used to determine eligibility for this election. I find this claim very strange and surprising since anyone who has been following GSOC at all knows that this is a major ongoing area of disagreement between the NYU AWDU caucus and UAW Local 2110. Interpreted as charitably as possible, this statement could only mean that they thought the criterion might be even narrower than the one Local 2110 used (which, under Local 2110’s own Bylaws, it probably could have been). The NYU AWDU caucus would not have liked that! The criteria used in this election were the very broadest that anyone familiar with Local 2110’s position, stated clearly and repeatedly in official communications at least since August, could have ever possibly expected it to apply. I have no doubt that many members misunderstood the eligibility criteria or were unaware of them. This is in part a result of the existence of GSOC Bylaws that contradict Local 2110 Bylaws concerning the issue of membership eligibility. That created a confusing situation for many people that should have been avoided, but it was a result of NYU AWDU leadership’s decision to pursue separate and contradictory Bylaws and not of a lack of clarity from Local 2110.

For Joint Council delegates in particular, it would be grossly unfair to inflate the pool of eligible people by including all graduate students regardless of whether they have worked in the bargaining unit. Other shops rightly do not have the opportunity to inflate their numbers on the Joint Council by bringing in candidates who do not work under the contract or pay dues, and it would unfairly disadvantage them relative to GSOC if we were allowed to do so. This is particularly important in a situation such as the one that presently exists where some of the GSOC delegates have taken a politically adversarial stance toward the rest of UAW Local 2110.

This means that, if the NYU AWDU caucus had really wanted to shut me out from the Joint Council, it would have had to find eight people to be candidates out of probably well over a thousand who were eligible under Local 2110’s definition. This should not have been hard to do for a caucus that has as much support as NYU AWDU claims to. NYU AWDU did not do this, and as a result I was elected by acclamation to the Joint Council, along with several colleagues from the NYU AWDU caucus.

Yesterday I discovered that members of the NYU AWDU caucus and possibly some others are taking the position that I am not eligible to be a Joint Council delegate because I served on the Votes Committee. No one who took this position contacted me directly to state it, although I saw that the e-mail to the GSOC membership did not include my name among those who would be on the ballot for the invalid contested election that GSOC’s NYU AWDU leadership evidently intends to run. When NYU AWDU Unit Representative Ella Wind asked me whether I wanted to serve on the Votes Committee, I should have known that this was partly motivated by a desire to be able to say later that I was ineligible to seek a Joint Council position. Instead, I reasonably assumed that I was being asked because I was already a steward and thus would not be running for that office, the only one I believe could reasonably be considered to fall under the Votes Committee’s purview. I did not and do not believe that the Votes Committee has any jurisdiction whatsoever regarding Joint Council positions. To the extent that the GSOC Bylaws say anything at all about the Joint Council, what they say has not been observed: for example, GSOC’s Bylaws follow the UAW Constitution in stating that bargaining units should have representation based on dues dollar (in which case GSOC would almost certainly get fewer than eight seats). Thankfully the Local 2110 Bylaws are more democratic than the UAW Constitution in this respect, giving representation based on the number of dues-paying members rather than the amount of dues, and the GSOC Bylaws do not govern the Joint Council, which is a representative institution for all Local 2110 members, not just NYU graduate student workers. To my knowledge, no one is alleging that I improperly used my position on the Votes Committee to get myself elected to the Joint Council, and it is hard to imagine how I could have done so given that the election was not contested. Nevertheless, I have resigned from the Votes Committee.

It appears likely that the NYU AWDU leadership of GSOC will conduct a contested election including candidates considered ineligible under Local 2110’s definition whose results will therefore not be recognized by Local 2110. I do not particularly care whether my name is on the ballot for this election or not, since the GSOC bargaining unit has no authority to unilaterally run a Joint Council election in this way. Under the process that I believe will stand, I have already been elected by acclamation to the Joint Council. If individuals who do not meet the eligibility criteria are elected under the invalid election the NYU AWDU leadership of GSOC plans to hold, I do not believe that the Joint Council will or should accept them as legitimate delegates. In the unlikely event that it does, I will contest this since it is unfair to me as someone who actually did meet the eligibility criteria.

For those wondering how to evaluate NYU AWDU’s lofty claims of democracy and transparency, it is important to note that, in the case of both the Joint Council and the steward positions, it is doing everything it can to try to prevent even one or a few individuals who are not part of the club or do not share all of NYU AWDU’s positions from holding office. NYU AWDU cannot stand the presence of even a small number of people who do not tow the party line. In addition to being procedurally legitimate, for me to serve as one Joint Council delegate out of five or eight would also be a substantively democratic outcome because there is a significant constituency in GSOC that does not support NYU AWDU’s stances against Local 2110 as demonstrated by the proportion of “no” votes in the fall 2015 Bylaws referendum. Similarly, it would also be healthy and reasonable for there to be a few more stewards who do not share all of NYU AWDU’s political orientations even if NYU AWDU does have the most support over all. It is characteristically opportunistic that a caucus with some roots in Occupy Wall Street’s experiments in radical democracy would now take the position that democracy equals winner-take-all majority rule. Far more important to me than my one vote on the Joint Council will be the role I will have to play as a GSOCer whom many Joint Council members know and trust in fostering a more constructive relationship between our bargaining unit and the rest of Local 2110.

NYU AWDU leadership’s claims of “election interference” on the part of Local 2110 are ridiculous since our bargaining unit is a part of Local 2110. Nevertheless, they are right that Local 2110 members have “interfered” in GSOC in many ways, including but not limited to putting up dues money to support our long and expensive campaign, picketing and participating in civil disobedience to help us win back our ability to collectively bargain, and offering us access to the experience that a union with a long and successful record has. I strongly support all these forms of interference in GSOC on the part of Local 2110 members and hope they continue unabated. Without them, we would have no union and no contract.

I am not sure to what lengths members of the NYU AWDU caucus will go in their attempt to prevent me from holding office. In the University of California system, members of the AWDU caucus have used tactics against their political opponents that are usually reserved for management such as following them around with disparaging signs. I have never been dissuaded by attempts to discourage me from criticizing NYU AWDU before and will not be now either. Still, I think this might be a difficult time for me and could use your emotional support. If my name does appear on the ballot, I will not campaign since I believe this election is illegitimate, but I would gladly take your vote. I respect whatever decision other candidates choose to make about campaigning in these elections which I do not believe will stand.

If NYU AWDU leadership believes that the proper election procedures were not followed (which is different from disagreeing politically with the membership eligibility criteria) then it should file charges with the UAW International and ultimately the independent Public Review Board in lieu of mobilizing GSOC not against our management but instead against our fellow union members. Alternately, if there were simple mistakes in determining membership eligibility, Local 2110 has already shown a willingness to correct those. Of course if there were mistakes sufficient to mean that the Joint Council election should have been contested, I will accept that I have not been elected by acclamation to the Joint Council.

Do I believe that fighting with Local 2110 leadership about membership eligibility is the most important thing our union should be doing right now? Not at all. Please scroll down to the next post for some ideas of priorities that would have been important to pursue this year but that the NYU AWDU leadership has not addressed.

Five Failures in NYU AWDU Leadership This Year

The NYU AWDU platform in both its short and long version sounds wonderful. Who doesn’t support a militant, democratic, social justice union? I certainly do. I agree with almost every sentence of the NYU AWDU platform in both its short and long version, though I think it repeats the mischaracterizations of the disagreements between NYU AWDU and Local 2110 leadership that I have criticized elsewhere on this blog.

But talk is cheap. If just saying the words “social justice union” made it so, we would have a social justice union at NYU many times over. Unfortunately, a union leadership needs to do more than just say those words. It has to take action to actually fight, preferably as strategically and effectively as possible, for the values it believes in. Specifically, it has an obligation to fight our management, the NYU administration, concerning the terms and conditions of our employment.

I thought this was a stunning omission from the NYU AWDU platform in both its short and long versions. NYU AWDU is the incumbent leadership of GSOC. What has it accomplished in the past year to show us that its radiant stated values have actually been put into practice? It can’t say. In reality, NYU AWDU leadership has accomplished very little this year, the first one after winning our contract. Here are five areas where it has dropped the ball:

  1. Failure to proactively enforce our contract. I have strongly and repeatedly argued that the staff positions in our contract should be dedicated solely to proactively enforcing our contract. What do I mean by this? It is not enough to simply wait for members to come to us with a possible contract violation. We have to be going to workers in their offices and departments and attempting to gather information about what’s happening across the university. We need to be doing this especially in the schools such as Tandon and Steinhardt where the most contract gains were won. Instead, the “organizational chart” dedicates the staff positions to maintaining our extremely confusing, bureaucratic, and ineffectual committee structure. This has had consequences for members. For months there was evidence of contract violations on a massive scale at Tandon, yet at a December Assembly of Stewards meeting NYU AWDU Unit Representative Ella Wind admitted that just going there and desperately hoping people would come to a meeting hadn’t worked. The Unit Representatives thought we might not even have one worker willing to file a grievance! (This turned out not to be true since long-time staff organizer Patrick Gallagher had found someone.) I was a member of the Organizing Committee at that time and I saw no evidence whatsoever of a consistent and coordinated effort to speak to workers at Tandon on the necessary scale and learn about possible contract violations. Instead, NYU AWDU Unit Representative sent the stewards desperate e-mails imploring us to all just spend more time having “conversations” (with whom? about what?). Whether for ideological or personal reasons the Unit Representatives refuse to accept that volunteer members in GSOC have never organized on the scale necessary to give our union the traction it needs throughout the university and that this must therefore be a responsibility of staff. Staff positions should not be used for “structures” that cater to the self-proclaimed “activists” who already want to participate in the union: these members don’t need extra attention! They should instead be used to involve as many members as possible who don’t immediately see why collective bargaining is relevant to their lives.
  1. Failure to demonstrate significant member support for GSOC’s positions among graduate students at NYU. Almost every semester prior to this academic year, GSOC had done something to show the university that it has the overwhelming support of graduate students affected by collective bargaining at NYU. Past petitions have generally been signed by at least one thousand and up to 1,250 graduate students. This year there were numerous redundant petitions about issues such as Steinhardt fees and unit erosion at Tandon, but no one did anything beyond send them out a few times over an e-mail list, so they garnered at most about two hundred signatures. Indeed, this is fewer signatures than the much more controversial BDS petition. That speaks to a distinct weakness in organizing and lack of interest in collective bargaining that the NYU administration surely celebrates! But what about direct action? I have already written about the silly and embarrassing “Walk of Shame” attended by a few dozen people. There is no evidence that this one action pushed the administration to accept GSOC’s positions on the major outstanding issues of Steinhardt fees and job loss at Tandon. Nor was that even its purpose. The event was explicitly presented as an opportunity for “activists” to experience catharsis rather than as part of a strategy to win better outcomes for members.
  1. Failure to build the union in schools with the most at stake in collective bargaining. I fought hard and successfully to create different “districts” for the steward positions because I knew that this was the only way to incentivize NYU AWDU to try to develop leadership outside the humanities and social sciences. Unfortunately, their way around this has been to exploit the fact that the Media, Culture, and Communication department is technically in Steinhardt. Under the announced election results this one relatively small department will have no fewer than five stewards out of thirty total for over sixty departments. GSOC has up till now had little member involvement in Steinhardt outside MCC or in any of the other professional schools. I continue to believe that the monopolization of GSOC by a very few departments is unfair and that GSOC should be working to develop leadership across the membership we claim to represent. The situation is even worse at Tandon, another school where much is at stake in collective bargaining but where only two of nine steward positions have been filled. Perhaps if the staff positions were used to proactively administer the contract there would be more individuals at Tandon who saw the importance of taking a role in the union.
  2. Failure to involve members in collective bargaining. Remarkably for a caucus that prizes member participation, collective bargaining is the one area that has been almost entirely the preserve of the Unit Representatives and Local 2110 leadership meeting frequently with NYU administration. It is true that about twenty people showed up to an arbitration concerning Steinhardt fees (out of hundreds and hundreds affected by this issue) but in general very few members or even stewards have significantly participated in collective bargaining. Discussions of collective bargaining have been marginalized at the monthly Assembly of Stewards meetings where other much more boring and much less important topics have been major foci: lists, tweaking internal committee structures, revising the precious Organizational Chart, distinguishing between different flavors of meeting, and so on. In fact, at most Assembly of Stewards meetings someone who just walked in off the street could be forgiven for missing the fact that GSOC is a labor union that represents workers in collective bargaining.
  3. Failure to build solidarity with other workers in our union. Our union brothers and sisters in Local 2110 fought hard for many years to win back collective bargaining rights for graduate student workers at NYU. But now, those workers can’t stand us! This is because NYU AWDU has chosen to viciously and falsely attack Local 2110 as a “business union” and its leadership as “management” despite the fact that Local 2110 members’ dues continue to subsidize basic collective bargaining expenses at NYU which GSOC’s dues base doesn’t cover. Whatever one’s opinion of disagreements about membership eligibility, it is obvious to anyone who has ever attended a Joint Council meeting that this venomous approach has alienated the long-time leaders and activists of a militant and progressive Local. It’s anyone’s guess how that will be helpful when it comes to reforming the UAW as a whole (most of whose members, of course, are not graduate students) as the NYU AWDU caucus has stated it is committed to doing.

Please judge NYU AWDU or any union leadership not on its words, but on its actions. Consider the publicly available evidence and accept that we need to do things differently.

Four Irregularities in the GSOC Bylaws Referendum

NYU AWDU is on its high horse again! It “cries foul” about Local 2110’s application of membership eligibility criteria in the recent steward and Joint Council election, noting “inconsistencies” in application of those criteria.

I am not yet sure what those “inconsistencies” are supposed to be, but from this characteristically self-righteous tone one could be forgiven for believing that NYU AWDU itself has a sterling record of conducting fair and democratic elections. However, this is far from the case. The NYU AWDU Bylaws Committee made a complete sham of the one vote for which it was responsible, the Bylaws Referendum in Fall 2015.

There was no way to know the total of valid “yes” and “no” votes! The Bylaws Committee claimed that this was the fault of Local 2110 for having bad lists. But even with perfect lists this would still have been the case. As it stands, the proportion of valid “no” votes could in principle have been as low as zero percent or as high as nearly 50%! This is because the link to vote was sent to several thousand people who were on the GSOC mailing list while less than a thousand of those were card signers, the standard that was to determine whose vote would be valid. The votes cast were then checked against the list of card signers. But because the Helios software encrypted the individual votes, there was no way to tell how many of the invalid votes were “yes” votes and how many were “no” votes!

At the vote count, NYU AWDU activists took individuals who were not on the list of card signers out of the pool of ineligible voters on the basis of allegedly finding someone with a similarly spelled name or even their purported memory that those individuals had signed cards. This process was obviously inconsistent and arbitrary, and it was how they arrived at the figure that there were not 134 invalid votes out of 291 but instead “only” 105 (and possibly fewer by now if they continued to think really hard and “remembered” still more people who had signed cards).

The Bylaws Committee lied to members about the vote counting process. The official e-mail told members that their vote would only be valid if they were card signers. We on the “no” side believed this and therefore focused our efforts on card signers. But the NYU AWDU caucus that set up the vote knew that there would be no way to tell how many of the invalid votes were “yes” votes and how many were “no” votes and therefore that it would be advantageous to turn out invalid votes.

I believe that at a certain point in that vote they started doing so systematically and therefore that a large majority of the invalid votes are likely to be “yes” votes. By contrast, I focused my efforts on card signers on the basis of my belief that the stated election procedures would actually be followed, although I did tell the few individuals who specifically asked me that they should cast a ballot even if they had not yet signed a card. As indicated, I do believe some “no” voters had not yet signed cards, but there was no concerted effort to turn out invalid “no” votes because we on the “no” side did not know that this would be in our interest.

The card-signing requirement was arbitrary and announced only at the start of the Bylaws ratification process. GSOC card signers aren’t necessarily dues-payers anyway. By the logic of the Bylaws Committee itself, “we all have a stake in the union.” Past online votes had been open to everyone on the list.  If the election wasn’t going to be limited to people working in the bargaining unit and paying dues anyway, why tell people who hadn’t physically signed a card that their vote would not be counted?

More importantly, since the NYU AWDU caucus knew all along that it would limit the vote to card signers, this gave it a chance to strategically sign up card signers who would be likely to support the proposed Bylaws. Had this requirement been announced earlier, it would similarly have incentivized me and other anti-Bylaws activists to collect cards from individuals we thought would vote “no.”

At every stage, from before the announcement to after the counting, the Bylaws vote process was marked by irregularities and illegitimate asymmetries of information. I have been assured that these problems will not obtain for the BDS vote. These irregularities are a far cry from Local 2110’s application of its long-standing eligibility criteria with which NYU AWDU simply disagrees.