Vote Counting To Resume After UC Grad Students Occupy Union Offices

Vote Counting To Resume After UC Grad Students Occupy Union Offices

The elections committee for a union representing academic student employees in the University of California system voted unanimously on Tuesday to resume counting votes in a statewide contest to determine the union's leadership, after scores of demonstrators occupied union offices in Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Members of the Election Committee for the United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents roughly 12,000 graduate students working as teachers, tutors, and researchers, had opted to halt the vote counting process on Saturday, following allegations of election fraud from two rival factions squaring off over leadership positions in the triennial election: the incumbent group, United for Social and Economic Justice, and upstarts, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union. Yet on Tuesday, it was announced that the count would resume on Thursday, following this week's sit-ins protesting the count's suspension.

"I'm excited to announce that the Election Committee met ... and was able to agree on a process for moving forward and counting all the ballots," said Travis Knowles, Elections Committee chair in a letter to union members. "I want to thank everyone for their patience as we worked with all parties to resolve this challenging, stressful situation."

As of Wednesday, an estimated 1,500 votes -- roughly half of all ballots cast -- remained uncounted, including ballots from UC Berkeley and UCLA. Those campuses had some of the highest voter turnout of any of the nine UC campuses involved, and at Berkeley students were expected to vote heavily in favor of breakaway group AWDU.

There are 80 positions on the Joint Council, which operates at the campus level, and ten on the Executive Board, which operates at the state level; all of them are up for grabs in this election cycle.

United for Social and Economic Justice currently holds eight of ten Executive Board seats as well as the majority of Joint Council seats, but AWDU is gaining traction on a handful of U.C. campuses.

Jennifer Tucker, a U.C. Berkeley graduate student and AWDU union unit chair, told The Huffington Post, "members and activists from around the state are extremely excited that through our efforts the election committee has decided to reverse course and begin the resumption of the vote count," adding that results from the recount could be available as soon as this weekend.

While members of AWDU crowed that their sit-ins have spurred the elections committee to resume counting votes, Local 2865 president Daraka Larimore-Hall, who is running for reelection on the United for Social and Economic Justice slate, blamed the rival group's "scorched earth" tactics for the suspension of the count in the first place.

"They released some our cell phone numbers, including mine, and I received messages threatening my job, my career and my reputation," he told the Santa Cruz Sentinel's Tovin Lapan. "Their playbook comes right from other bitter inter-union fights."

Members of AWDU, meanwhile, argue the vote was halted only after it became apparent their slate had a good chance of winning.

"As counting progressed late in the day on Saturday it became clear that Academic Workers for a Democratic Union might actually be in a position to win the majority of seats on the statewide executive board," Tucker told HuffPost.

When the count resumes on Thursday, an independent mediator will be on hand to help adjudicate any disputes as they arise.

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