UAW Overrules Academic Workers BDS Vote Against Israel Despite Finding Strong Turnout, No Misconduct

Mario Vasquez January 6, 2016

The American labor movement seems to slowly be joining the BDS movement. (Adrien Fauth / Flickr)

On Decem­ber 15, 2015, the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers (UAW) Inter­na­tion­al Exec­u­tive Board (IEB) nul­li­fied the res­o­lu­tion passed last year by mem­bers of UAW Local 2865, the 13,000 teach­ing assis­tants and stu­dent-work­ers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem, that called on the Inter­na­tion­al to endorse the Boy­cott, Divest, and Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment against Israel by with­hold­ing their finan­cial invest­ments in com­pa­nies com­plic­it in severe and ongo­ing human rights vio­la­tions as part of the Israeli oppres­sion of the Pales­tin­ian people.

The deci­sion to nul­li­fy the BDS res­o­lu­tion, which had made Local 2865 the first Amer­i­can local union to endorse a boy­cott, was the out­come of an appeal filed by a mem­ber of Informed Grads, a group of local union mem­bers who opposed BDS. Stephen Brum­baugh, a Local 2865 mem­ber at UC Los Ange­les, took his case up with the International’s exec­u­tive board after Local 2865 had pre­vi­ous­ly dis­missed it in May 2015, fail­ing to find mer­it in its claims.

The IEB went through a peri­od of fact-find­ing, gath­er­ing tes­ti­mo­ny and evi­dence from Informed Grads and Local 2865 before issu­ing the deci­sion. While UAW IEB admit­ted that the Decem­ber 2014 vote on the BDS mea­sure was demo­c­ra­t­ic and free of any mis­con­duct, pro­duc­ing a turnout high­er than pre­vi­ous elec­tions held by the local, the IEB con­clud­ed that in its view the res­o­lu­tion vio­lat­ed the International’s con­sti­tu­tion by lead[ing] to a direct eco­nom­ic depri­va­tion for mem­bers of the UAW, as well as oth­er orga­nized mem­bers by, cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly inter­fer­ing with the flow of com­merce to and from ear­marked com­pa­nies” at Boe­ing, Cater­pil­lar, Gen­er­al Elec­tric, Lock­heed Mar­tin, ITT, Northrop-Grum­man and Raytheon, the firms tar­get­ed by BDS advocates.

Brumbaugh’s attor­neys on the appeal are asso­ci­at­ed with Gib­son, Dunn, & Crutch­er, a glob­al law firm known for pro­vid­ing for big busi­ness, includ­ing Wal­mart in a 2011 land­mark civ­il action dis­crim­i­na­tion suit. We are very pleased by [the UAW] Inter­na­tion­al Union’s force­ful rejec­tion of BDS, which sets a pow­er­ful prece­dent for oth­er labor unions and nation­al orga­ni­za­tions,” said Scott Edel­man, a part­ner at Gib­son, Dunn & Crutch­er, in a state­ment by Informed Grads.

At one August hear­ing, Brum­baugh and his attor­neys intro­duced sev­er­al let­ters sent by promi­nent labor union advo­cates” to UAW Inter­na­tion­al to con­demn BDS, includ­ing Randy Cam­mack and Rome A. Aloise, both Inter­na­tion­al Vice Pres­i­dents with the Inter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Team­sters, and J. David Cox, Sr., Nation­al Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Employees.

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,” Cam­mack and Aloise say in their let­ter. 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.”

Anoth­er let­ter sub­mit­ted by Brum­baugh came from Jonathan D. Ginzel, the Direc­tor of Labor & Employ­ment Rela­tions at Cater­pil­lar (one of the cor­po­ra­tions tar­get­ed by BDS res­o­lu­tions for its alleged role in the demo­li­tion of Pales­tin­ian vil­lages), who tells a UAW Inter­na­tion­al exec­u­tive that the com­pa­ny out­right rejects any sug­ges­tion that Cater­pil­lar is engaged in or com­plic­it in any human rights vio­la­tions any­where in the world” and asks the Inter­na­tion­al to void this Res­o­lu­tion and take what­ev­er addi­tion­al steps are nec­es­sary to con­firm that the UAW does not sup­port an effort to divest from Cater­pil­lar or Israel.”

Kumars Sale­hi, a UAW 2865 mem­ber and BDS cau­cus mem­ber at UC Berke­ley, calls the IEB’s claims of poten­tial eco­nom­ic depri­va­tion a mod­el of busi­ness union­ism,” the union mod­el that eschews engage­ment with broad­er social issues beyond its mem­bers’ day-to-day needs.

This is clear­ly an argu­ment that is from the per­spec­tive of the employ­ers rather than of work­ers. This is the sort of argu­ment that could be used against any boy­cott,” Sale­hi says. There are peo­ple with­in UAW and the labor move­ment in gen­er­al that cri­tique the assump­tion that the inter­ests of employ­ers and the flow of com­merce’ are the same as the inter­ests of workers.”

The IEB uses these let­ters lat­er in their report to sup­port their con­clu­sion that by pass­ing the BDS res­o­lu­tion, Local 2865 broke its con­sti­tu­tion­al oblig­a­tion to work togeth­er with oth­er unions for the solid­i­fi­ca­tion” of the labor move­ment. But UAW mem­bers claim that their local began orga­niz­ing around BDS after a call for boy­cott was made by Pales­tin­ian trade union con­fed­er­a­tions in July 2014 in the midst of the 50-day assault waged by the Israeli mil­i­tary that left 2,100 Pales­tini­ans dead.

Cit­ing the solid­i­fi­ca­tion of the labor move­ment’ in order to jus­ti­fy negat­ing the will of our mem­bers is pret­ty sin­is­ter and hyp­o­crit­i­cal,” says Sale­hi, adding that in the eyes of the IEB, it seems the rule is that Pales­tin­ian trade unions are not a part of the labor movement.

The IEB also ruled in favor of Informed Grads on the charge that the BDS res­o­lu­tion vio­lat­ed the union constitution’s eth­i­cal code, say­ing the res­o­lu­tion was sug­ges­tive of dis­crim­i­na­to­ry label­ing and a dis­par­age­ment” of its Israeli and Jew­ish members.

The local union’s attempt to address the predica­ment of the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple appears to be accom­plished through biased tar­get­ing of Israeli/​Jewish UAW mem­bers, and the scorn­ing of the state of Israel and all alleged enti­ties com­plic­it in actions against Pales­tine,” the IEB said in report of the decision.

David McCleary, UAW 2865 North­ern Vice Pres­i­dent, speak­ing on behalf of UAW 2865 Exec­u­tive Board, told In These Times, We firm­ly reject accu­sa­tions of anti­semitism, and the evi­dence pre­sent­ed dur­ing the appeal process clear­ly sup­ports this view. As one of many Jew­ish mem­bers of UAW 2865 who sup­port­ed this divest­ment cam­paign, I can say that the accu­sa­tion is per­son­al­ly hurt­ful and I expect­ed bet­ter of our Inter­na­tion­al Exec­u­tive Board.”

While this deci­sion nul­li­fies our non-bind­ing res­o­lu­tion, it does not erase the voic­es and efforts of the count­less rank-and-file mem­bers of our union, pas­sion­ate about equal­i­ty and jus­tice for Pales­tini­ans,” McCleary added.

Unt­ed Elec­tri­cal Work­ers (UE) and the Con­necti­cut AFL-CIO have fol­lowed Local 2865’s lead on a BDS endorse­ment over the course of the past year but have met oppo­si­tion. UE’s res­o­lu­tion has been chal­lenged through the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board by an Israeli non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion on the grounds that it amounts to ille­gal sec­ondary boy­cotts (a prod­uct of the Taft-Hart­ley Act). In Cal­i­for­nia, as Glenn Green­wald has writ­ten for the Inter­cept, UC admin­is­tra­tors and state law­mak­ers have been vocal­ly sup­port­ive of expand­ing hate speech def­i­n­i­tions to include crit­i­cism or demo­niza­tion” of Israel, which would con­ceiv­ably lim­it BDS activism at least in theory. 

No let­ter from the IEB can erase the edu­ca­tion­al and orga­ni­za­tion­al work we have done over the past year — work we will con­tin­ue to do, ener­gized no doubt by the IEB’s unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic, busi­ness-friend­ly attempt to nul­li­fy this vote,” the BDS cau­cus says in a state­ment. We are part of a grow­ing move­ment for union sol­i­dar­i­ty with the peo­ple of Pales­tine and for a demo­c­ra­t­ic and vision­ary U.S. labor movement.”

At New York Uni­ver­si­ty, grad­u­ate work­er and UAW mem­ber David Klassen, says he was excit­ed” about the BDS cam­paign in Cal­i­for­nia because it was every­thing he felt was miss­ing in the UAW: a long peri­od of edu­ca­tion, open debate” fol­lowed by an open ref­er­en­dum in which mem­bers can actu­al­ly decide what the pol­i­cy of their union will be.”

Klassen is a mem­ber of the Aca­d­e­m­ic Work­ers for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union with­in UAW, a new wave of grad­u­ate stu­dent work­ers who say they aim to reform the Inter­na­tion­al in more pro­gres­sive direc­tions, and says he is invest­ed in ensur­ing that UAW has venues in which peo­ple can for­ward their voic­es and have open debate” rather than impor­tant union deci­sions being made qui­et­ly, in back­rooms.” Klassen says that the nul­li­fi­ca­tion deci­sion is the per­fect exam­ple” of closed-door deci­sion-mak­ing that the Inter­na­tion­al needs to break from.

While the IEB may have halt­ed the BDS res­o­lu­tion from Local 2865 for the moment, Klassen says that AWDU mem­bers have learned from the effort in Cal­i­for­nia and have launched their own BDS cam­paign at NYU. While he admits the com­mon assump­tion is that mem­bers would want to shy away from a con­tro­ver­sial” or divi­sive” issue, he says mem­bers have seemed to pre­fer demo­c­ra­t­ic debate over the issue.

Peo­ple want to know that their union is a place where they can have debates about the world that they live in — that col­lec­tive­ly, they can nego­ti­ate not just for [their] nar­row, mate­r­i­al inter­ests at work, but also the world in which they live.” he says.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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