Student-worker union votes on divestment from Israel

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The United Auto Workers Local 2865 union — which represents UC student-workers and academic employees — held a systemwide vote Thursday on a ballot that, if passed, would support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The ballot calls for the student-workers union, the University of California and the federal government to divest funds from companies affiliated with Israel and “complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations.” The union’s joint council voted in October to poll its membership on BDS policy after members of its elected leadership came forward with the issue, according to Krista Cortes, the union’s unit chair on campus.

While the union often focuses on issues of social justice, it rarely polls its memberships on these issues, Cortes said.

“Usually we decide to take up causes and banners amongst elected leadership,” Cortes said. “But this is something that touches people a little differently, so we wanted to make sure people had their individual voices heard.”

More than 600 graduate students at UC Berkeley voted on the ballot measure, a turnout Cortes called “monumental.”

Voters also had the option of signing a personal pledge to support the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Representatives from both sides of the debate spent the day speaking to voters and passing out flyers on Sproul Plaza.

Jonathan Kummerfeld, a member of Informed Grads — a student group opposed to the BDS proposal — said its passage would have a negative impact on graduate students by targeting other unions’ members who may be employees of such companies.  Kummerfeld said these companies may find it difficult to support the union in future actions against the UC management.

“There are real costs on the ground for graduate students here,” Kummerfeld said. “Those costs are not worth it for students because the goals they’re aiming for, mainly BDS, are not going to lead to peace.”

While Kummerfeld and Informed Grads urged graduate students to vote against the proposal, members of the BDS Caucus and Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, recommended voters support the proposal.

“These measures that Palestinian civil societies have called for, mainly BDS, is actually the only way that remains to get justice and a just peace in Palestine,” said Kumars Salehi, a member of the union’s BDS Caucus and SJP.

In November, the University of California Student Association, or UCSA, voted to postpone a resolution on the same issue until the UCSA’s Jan. 10 meeting. The union vote and the UCSA’s proposal come after a number of UC student governments attempted to pass resolutions with similar goals.

Tabulation of results of the vote will begin next week, once the campus receives ballots from other UC campuses.

“We’re in a unique time right now,” Cortes said. “People are frustrated, and they’re looking for ways to do something that’s meaningful — something that will have an impact on society.”

Chloee Weiner is the lead campus life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .