In unprecedented vote, UC student-workers union votes to support divestment

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Members of a UC student-workers union voted Dec. 4 to pass a measure that calls for the University of California and the United Auto Workers International to divest funds from companies associated with the Israeli military, becoming the first major U.S. labor union to support this type of divestment by a membership vote.

United Auto Workers Local 2865 is a labor union representing more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student employees at the university. More than 2,100 members voted, with 65 percent in support of the divestment measure.

Nearly one-third of the votes were cast at UC Berkeley, of which about 70 percent were in favor. The vote passed with a majority at all UC campuses except for UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. Student governments from six of nine undergraduate UC campuses — UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and most recently, UCLA — have passed divestment resolutions to date.

The divestment efforts are in line with the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The ballot language specifically called on the union’s members to divest funds from “Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations.”

The ballot also included an optional question asking members to make a voluntary, nonbinding pledge not to participate in any research, conferences, exchange programs or other activities sponsored by “Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine.” Approximately 52 percent of voting members across the UC system and 55 percent of voters at UC Berkeley took the pledge.

“We see this as another very significant drop in the bucket in the University of California that builds on the work of what undergraduate student groups have done,” said Katy Fox-Hodess, spokesperson for UAW Local 2865’s statewide executive council.

Kumars Salehi, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley and a member of Cal Students for Justice in Palestine, hopes the vote will not only hold significance within UC system but will also become a catalyst for other unions across the nation to join the movement for divestment.

The regents have explicitly stated that they do not support a policy of divestment, but Salehi believes that a broad consensus across the UC system could pressure them into action.

“As soon as the regents decide to respect the growing consensus, then we will have dealt a concrete blow to the mechanism,” Salehi said.

The vote and its outcome were met with opposition from a group called Informed Grads, which believes that the vote was undemocratic. Jonathan Kummerfeld, a UC Berkeley graduate student and the leader of Informed Grads’ UC Berkeley chapter, believes that insufficient discussion occurred prior to the vote.

“I came into this expecting that these were people with strong opinions and that we were going to debate the issue and see opinions from both sides,” Kummerfeld said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to hear what our members really think.”

As a group, Informed Grads is discussing what to do next and is looking into appeals, but it will not pursue legal action against the union, Kummerfeld said. He said those who opposed the divestment measure now face the dilemma of recognizing the importance of unions but opposing the adoption of the measure in their names.

“I think unions are important, which is why I signed up in 2011,” Kummerfeld said. “But if the union is going to take such an extreme stance, then I’m really opposed to it. I don’t want them to claim that they are representing my views.”

The labor union’s next steps will be decided upon by the joint council, comprising 83 elected officers across nine UC campuses, as it discusses strategies to approach the university and the national union, Fox-Hodess said.

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.

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  • BRUCERUBIN

    Only the government can pass a boycott of a nation but under the patriot act all those who give material support to a terrorist organization are in violation of the patriot act!!

  • SamXie

    Other unions, including the Formidable Teamsters have strongly denounced this resolution, declaring:

    It has come to our attention that the Executive Board of UAW Local
    2865 has endorsed the “Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction
    Movement” against companies that do business in Israel. In addition, we
    understand you have also endorsed the so-called “Academic and Cultural
    Boycott of Israel.” We further understand that you are putting the
    matter to a vote of your bargaining unit members on December 6 [sic],
    2014.

    Teamsters Joint Council 7 and 42 is comprised of our members
    in California, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific. This includes Local
    2010 that represents 14,000 employees throughout the University of
    California system.

    As you are no doubt aware, the companies that
    are targeted by the BDS movement include numerous employers that are
    represented by organized labor, including many thousands who are
    represented by the Teamsters. Indeed, some of the companies you wish
    your union to boycott and divest from are represented by the United Auto
    Workers. In the case of the Teamsters, we represent tens of thousands
    of employees at the following companies that are listed as targets of
    the BDS campaign:

    Boeing
    Cemex
    General Dynamics
    General Electric
    ITT
    Lockheed-Martin
    Northrup-Grumman

    Whatever
    your motives, we cannot conceive of an action more hostile to the
    interests of our members and more antithetical to the most basic
    principles of the union movement than for a union to call for actions
    which are intended to do harm to the economic security of other union
    members. We would find it difficult to ask our members to support your
    union in a labor dispute with the University of California so long as
    you are engaged in activities that are fundamentally hostile to their
    interests.

    Giving you the benefit of the doubt, we can only assume
    that you took your actions without consideration of the potential harm
    to hard working union members across California and the United States.
    We ask you to look at that issue now. Unlike the members of your union,
    who are graduate students and therefore union members for a short period
    of time, our members are working in jobs that must support them for a
    lifetime and it is our job to protect them for all of their working
    lives.

    We would strongly request that you reconsider your actions.

    *****************

    By taking this action, the graduate student union has distanced itself from organized labor and has damaged our credibility in future negotiations. What an embarrassment for all of us

  • 12

    anyone who supports this should have a bullet in their head.

  • Dan Spitzer

    Will supporters of the resolution be celebrating by giving out candies as their Palestinian pals did after 9/11 and the recent meat cleaver murder of rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue? Just ask’in…

  • Hank Chapot

    Dan Spitzer is the world’s oldest freshman. I think you should graduate Dan, go join the big boys arguing on Huffington Post or maybe gawker or reddit. leave the children alone.

  • Paul Anderson

    BDS will relieve numerous parties of their racist commitments, and is thus a not-quite-yet-monumental step toward equality and peace. Thank you for leading, students, employees, union(s). Thank you also, Palestinian and Israeli people who have worked for this.

    • “relieve numerous parties of their racist commitments”?

      I sense a serious case of white man’s guilt

      • Dan Spitzer

        Yes, Cesar. You are right on target. Ole Paul cannot forgive the curse of his pigment.
        ‘Course, hie pro-Palestinian predilection shows how bigoted he is vs Jews, women, gays and dissidents. His Pali Pals loathe all of ’em…

      • Paul Anderson

        BDS is maximal participation and minimal force to end a century of warfare against the remnants of the Ottoman empire. The goal is equality of outcome at the individual level. You will like it.

        • Dan Spitzer

          Methinks Paul has become confused after taking a propaganda course from Hatem Bazian…

        • That makes no sense. BDS is taking an anti Israel position any way that you try to dress it up.

          Also, I already know what BDS and I do not like it.

  • Dan Spitzer

    Like the ASUC divestment vote of two years ago, both the regents and the UC administrations have rejected the union’s resolution for BDS. Hence it’s yet another solely symbolic and waster of student and union resources. Moreover, it should be noted that most members of the union did not vote, with only 2100 of better than 13,000 bothering to cast ballots.
    Unfortunately, what it does reveal is the extent of anti-Semitism manifest on UC campuses by BDS advocates. To call for BDS vs truly democratic Israel while the union and student governments ignore the gender apartheid, overall misogyny, maltreatment of gays and suppression of dissidents among the nations which are predominantly Islamic, the tyranny of most African governments, and the horrific treatment accorded both minority peoples and their own Han populace by the Chinese underscores the bigoted targeting of the world’s sole Jewish State.
    One may thereby reasonably conclude that for the union to single out Israel for BDS is an overtly anti-Semitic act. And implicit in this resolution is 1) a call for the banning of Israeli academics and researchers from UC campuses and 2) the encouragement of teaching assistants to use their classrooms to discuss alleged Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians. Hopefully, any attempt to implement this beyond the symbolic will lead to the firing of union personnel violating the rights both of Israeli academic employees as well as the students involuntarily subjected to such propaganda in classes having nothing to do with the Israeli/Palestinian situation.

    • disqus_is_overvalued_techie_no

      So your position is that since other countries are also doing bad things, it’s okay for Israel to do bad things? Maybe even worse things?

      • Dan Spitzer

        Bad things? Worse things? Bullshit. Israel is an admirable democracy, with equal laws applied to all, exemplary rights for women, gays and dissidents, full freedom of expression. Yet it is singled out for BDS while the barbaric suppression of women, gays and dissidents is regularly manifest throughout the Islamic world, particularly in the Palestinian Territories. Nevertheless, the tiny minority of the union who voted (the vast majority of the union did not vote) singled Israel out. And since half of the world’s Jews live in Israel, it is clear that this is nothing other than anti-Semitism.
        Berkeley just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the free speech movement, yet this 8% of the union who supported the resolution would ban Israeli academics and researchers from UC campuses and have its membership spout propaganda in the classes they teach. According to the administration, the regents, indeed the laws of California, they should be penalized for such untoward discriminatory actions and the betting here is that they will if they try to implement their bigotry…

        • disqus_is_overvalued_techie_no

          >with equal laws applied to all

          Like Palestinians?

          • disqus_is_overvalued_techie_no

            >admirable democracy

            Admirable by you, maybe.

          • Dan Spitzer

            Well, techie, perhaps I am wrong but I believe I remember you do hail from the tyranny of Saudi Arabia, don’t you? Correspondingly, it would be understood if you had little or no awareness of democracy, as it is rarely evidenced there or anywhere else in the Islamic world and certainly not approaching that which is the norm in Israel…

          • disqus_is_overvalued_techie_no

            Ignoring the irrelevancy of this statement due to its purely ad-hominem content, you are wrong. I hail from the tyranny of New York State, with no known ethnic ties whatsoever to Saudi Arabia or any Middle Eastern nation, for that matter.

          • Dan Spitzer

            Emphatically yes. Show me an instance within Israel where this doesn’t hold true…

          • disqus_is_overvalued_techie_no

            Burden is proof is on you to prove your assertion that it is true. i.e., show me an instance where it *does* hold true.

          • Dan Spitzer

            That’s no problem. In Israel, every law is equally applied to Arabs as it is to Jews. It’s unlikely you can cite anything to the contrary…

          • lspanker

            Militant Palestinians reject the Israeli state and have instead chose to be represented by a fanatical group of homicidal terrorists who do everything in their power to commit the Palestinian people to a suicidal war against an intellectual, technical and economically superior foe. Do yourself a favor and read a book or two on WWII, and learn what happened to the people who lost that war…

  • garyfouse

    OK, so now what? UC isn’t going to divest from anything. It’s the equivalent of little girls playing house.

    • It gives them an ego boost and makes them feel powerful

  • Jokes like this are why people don’t take student organizations or student governments (especially those at UC Berkeley) seriously

    • disqus_is_overvalued_techie_no

      You, in contrast, appear to be taking at least the article very seriously, and arguably, by proxy, the organizations therein.

      • Dan Spitzer

        No, because democratic Israel-the world’s sole Jewish state-was singled out by some of those who hijacked the union-rejoinders are appropriate. Naturally, the pro-Palestinian minion is going to point to yet another worthless bit of simpleton symbolism and it is appropriate for those who oppose anti-Semitism to offer apt responses.
        Indeed, this resolution and the attempt to silence Bill Maher have given many of us a wonderful opportunity to clue others into the bigotry of SJP and MSA, to say nothing of the misogyny, overall sexism, and suppressive forces rooted in Islamists everywhere-including the UC Berkeley campus…