Winter 2012

Erin Conley – Southern Vice President

I’m a second year PhD student and Teaching Associate in the English Department at UCLA, and I’m eager to represent our members and continue the work of reformers from Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) as the Southern Vice-President.

In nearly every recent national news story on austerity measures in public education, one can read about our union and the key role our members play in the public education movement. A year ago activists and organizers across the UC system were struggling to mobilize enough students on campuses to hold rallies in defense of public education. Our former leadership failed to recognize the power of our members, and as result, we were losing the fight against privatization and the fight for a stronger contract. Now we have the Regents on the defense, and this is a result of commitments that the reform leadership we elected last spring made to building a fighting union.

I’ve been on the front line of this fight, and I’ll bring vital experience in activism and cross-campus/cross-sector organizing to the SVP office. I worked with our union’s partners in the ReFund California Coalition to develop a direct action plan and coordinate outreach for the November 9th Regents protests and the November 16th CSU Trustees solidarity protests. I coordinated dozens of Teach the Budget presentations to spread the word about the actions, and I helped turn out hundreds of students, workers, and community members for the 9th and the 16th. As SVP I’ll continue fostering our relationships with coalitions like ReFund California so our union can push for increased state revenue through measures like the Millionaire’s Tax, and I’ll help us build a base of politicized student-workers committed to a diversity of tactics in the fight for public education.

There’s no question that our union is indispensable to the fight against privatization in California, and a growing union will only strengthen our success. I’m also committed to meaningfully increasing our membership because an active, knowledgable, and organized membership is how we win. Organizer trainings and grievance handler trainings are invaluable to empowering campus leadership and rank-and-file members alike, so I want to coordinate such trainings for the southern region on a more frequent basis. Likewise, I want to work with campuses to recruit more stewards and develop stewards networks in order to increase the membership’s access to information about the contract. Wider contract education and information sharing are essential for organizing around contract violations and workload issues, and as SVP I will encourage us to aggressively use the contract as a tool for protecting student-worker rights. To that end, I will fight for the strong contract that is possible if we continue to show our strength and win the fight against privatization.

To learn more about AWDU at UCLA, visit our website at

Jason Ball – Unit Chair

I believe a better world is possible. This belief has motivated my leadership in the student movement since 2005. As Unit Chair, I will fight for the wages and benefits that educators deserve while continuing to defend the accessibility and quality of the UC. My record speaks for itself.

At my community college, I led efforts to win full student control for over $6 million in student funds. After transferring as an undergrad to UCLA, I participated in many campaigns and came to understand how this campus works. As a graduate student, I have been at the forefront of resistance against budget cuts, tuition hikes, and the degradation of university quality. Few come equipped with my knowledge of UCLA and student politics. I know when to fight and when to compromise, but more important than my experience is my understanding of the necessity of honesty, transparency, and communication in building an organization capable of meeting the challenges that confront it.

This is why I am running with other activists from Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU). Our ability to win, rather than just hoping for it, is dependent on us having an informed and active membership. We’ll be asking you to help us, to participate in meetings and the governance of the union, and to keep others informed about what is happening. California faces a crisis of priorities and the difficult truth is that educators will no longer be able to maintain the quality of their lives and classrooms while staying out of the loop.

We’ve seen the results of a strategy that does not keep members informed. Our last team of negotiators could not even win a contract that kept wages up with inflation while other UC unions won significant raises. Because negotiators did not talk to us, they did not prioritize issues like class size which dramatically impact work load and the quality of our teaching. Sadly, for many of you, this will be the first time you’ve read anything about our contract. Strong negotiation can only happen if members are motivated to stand up, which is only possible through communication. Our opponents are part of an organization that has historically viewed communication with members as dangerous rather than powerful. Their record, also, speaks for itself.

If elected, AWDU candidates will join a group of reformers from across the state that have already been elected, who have started communicating and who, like us, have been sacrificing to build a student movement that has begun to put Administration on the defensive. It was hard work to start as the son of an oil worker and go from a high school drop out to the PhD program in political science. I’ve learned that it is possible to start with little and accomplish a lot, and I know that we can win.

Alexandra Holmstrom-Smith – Head Steward

Although a relative newcomer to the UCLA campus, I have considerable experience with campus and union activism at my college, off-campus, and through my research. As a graduate student in Sociology I have been involved with the UAW and the fight for public education statewide, and I was recently among those arrested at a direct action in Westwood. The University of California system is world-renowned, and academic workers have to be committed to defending this institution from years of budget cuts and privatization. Our degrees, our teaching credentials, and our education are all intimately tied to the quality of this institution. When our workloads are too high it affects the quality of our research and teaching. Therefore, I believe that defending our rights as academic workers has to be connected with a broader movement to rethink funding priorities. AWDU has been a leader in this effort. If we don’t fight back, the state will continue to deal with its budget problems by squeezing graduate students, TAs, readers, and other vulnerable workers. As a head steward, I will continue to work to keep the pressure on the state to restore funding to public education. I will also be a responsive officer, available to listen to the needs and concerns of my fellow graduate students and academic workers. At UCLA, we have an opportunity this year to build the strength of our union and make it better positioned to negotiate on behalf of student-workers in the coming years. I am deeply committed to that cause, and I would be honored to represent you.

Renee Hudson – Head Steward

We are at a pivotal moment in the fight to defend public education. The UC Regents have delayed voting on tuition increases. The Regents have also decided to hold their May meeting in Sacramento as part of a rally to improve funding for higher education.

These developments are a far cry from where we were in 2009. And yet, while the UC Regents’ rhetoric has improved, their response to us, the students, has worsened. This year has seen the continued militarization of UCPD to such an extent that protesters now expect to be beaten and pepper sprayed. The sight of police in riot gear has become the rule, not the exception.

Meanwhile, in my home department, English, we continue to lose top faculty to private institutions. TAs are now hired on a quarter-by-quarter basis instead of a yearly basis, leading to an even greater sense of job insecurity.

This is the situation we are in: we must fight the increasing privatization and militarization at our university. We must do this because fighting against the budget cuts directly affects the environment in which we labor. Our resistance to privatization will ensure that we are able to teach, not “manage” our students. Our resistance to privatization will ensure that we are able to teach, not provide a service for our student to consume. Our resistance to the militarization of our campuses will ensure a safe learning environment where we can focus on being students and workers, rather than victims of police brutality and intimidation.

As a candidate for Head Steward, I am committed to defending public education and advocating for our rights as academic workers. I am committed to working with TAs, readers, researchers, and tutors to address the concerns that affect us all, from the larger fight to defend public education to the issues that affect us everyday, like high workloads and a lack of summer funding. I am a fifth year PhD student in English, a TA, and a tutor. As a member of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU), I am invested in continuing to reform our union and empower academic student employees. I am excited for the opportunity to serve you and encourage you to learn more about AWDU at UCLA:

Alexei Nowak – Head Steward

I’m Alexei Nowak, a third-year graduate student in the Comparative Literature department running for UCLA Head Steward. We are now facing a crisis in the U.C. and in California public education as a whole, but it is also an opportunity, as part of the accelerating political mobilizations over the past two years in this country, for us as graduate students, TA’s, and GSR’s to take control of our own jobs and education. In 2009 I was involved in statewide organizing and local actions that revitalized the student movement, and last year I began working with Academic Workers for a Democratic Union because I believe our self-interest, a better contract, is in the interest of the overall refunding of the U.C.

Graduate students can play a key role in coordinating and leading the fight against university austerity measures. We take classes, like undergraduates; we have collectively bargained contracts, like workers; we teach, like faculty. We see classes and programs cut, while being asked to teach more students, ultimately weakening undergraduate education. If all of this were not enough, TA’s are paid between $16,000 and $18,000 per year to sink or swim in Los Angeles’s high cost of living. Once upon a time graduate school might have appeared as an investment toward life-long job security as tenured faculty, but those opportunities are increasingly scarce. So as student debt becomes less of an option, we need better wages while in graduate school itself.

This context may appear as an organizer’s dream, not only the opportunity but the pressing need to mobilize academic student workers for their own interests in our union’s contract negotiations in 2010. However, the previous union leadership kept rank-and-file members in the dark about the negotiations, relying only on the small bargaining team, until they finally pressed us to accept a contract that did not even keep up with inflation. It was out of the frustration with this process that I joined a new group looking to reform the union.

AWDU’s fundamental position is that only a well-informed, mobilized union of academic student workers can put the kind of pressure on the administration that it will take to win a better contract. Following our historic victory last spring, in which AWDU candidates won all ten seats on the union’s statewide executive board, we have become one of the most progressive elements in the larger labor movement. This has meant, among other things, working with the Refund California coalition to try to raise income and property taxes on the wealthiest Californians. Closer to home, all six of our UCLA AWDU candidates have participated in Occupy UCLA, including the action in November which forced the Regents to meet us on our own terms. The Regents are on the defensive, in a public relations crisis. I believe that in pressing them our greatest weapon is graduate students’ intelligence and creativity, and as Head Steward I will work to coordinate larger student participation in this fight.

Mathew Sandoval – Head Steward



Our Public Education system is under attack

Our public institutions are under attack

Our public everything is under attack


They’re privatizing our university

They’re privatizing our campus

They’re privatizing our space, our time, our everything


We can’t afford to let this happen

We can’t afford to turn a blind eye

In a time when we can’t afford tuition or the cost of living, we can’t afford a Union that isn’t fighting back


Let’s stop talking about these issues in private

Let’s stop trying to solve them in private

Let’s join the widening, global chorus that sings ‘Fuck The Private!’


Let’s take our fight Public

Let’s take it to the streets

Let’s take it to the media

Let’s shove it right in front of everyone’s faces

And if that’s not enough, then let’s shut it down!


Seriously, seriously, let’s stop fucking around. I’ve been at UCLA long enough to know that our Union has spent too much time lost in endless bureaucracy, too much time lost in power struggles among “decision makers”, too much time not looking past the end of its nose. We need a broader scope.  We need reform. We need a more radical engagement with the problems facing graduate student workers.

That’s why I’m bumping fists with other activists from AWDU (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union) and running for the Head Steward position, so we can stop fucking around.



Our Union needs more creativity

Our politics needs more art

Our student movement needs to become a carnival


The Regents, the administration, the state officials, only know numbers

Their language is charts, graphs, and figures

Their faces are earnest, somber, and grave


We have to laugh, play, have fun, be lively

We have to speak a language of poetry and performance

We have to dance, make music, make puppets, make love


Let’s link it up with radical undergraduate groups

Let’s hook it up with state-wide Occupy groups

Let’s make this Union a party, not a political party, but a Party party, one that real people want to really be a part of.


Seriously, seriously, let’s start fucking around. I’ve been at UCLA too long to know how serious exams, and dissertations, and teaching, and researching, and fellowships, and applications, and funding, and committees, and every other fucking aspect of graduate school can be. It’s all serious all the time. Union membership, participation, and activism should not mimic that seriousness. Not if it wants to survive. Not if it wants to grow.

That’s why I’m running as Head Steward, because changing the world should be the necessary recess from the daily stress of graduate school. So let’s do the damn thang!

Fall 2011

Zachary Williams – Recording Secretary

Hello, my name is Zachary Williams. I am a fourth year doctoral student in Political Science, specifically Political Theory.  I’m in my third year of working as a TA.  I’ve been a member of UAW 2865 since 2008 and I’ve participated in Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) since it formed at UCLA in 2010.

I’m involved in our union because I believe our union is an important place to fight for public education in the state of California, because our interests, as teachers and tutors responsible for the bulk of instructional hours here on campus, are inseparable from those of our students and our society. As such, the quality of our working conditions helps determine the quality of our students’ education and this state’s future.

I aligned myself with AWDU in 2010 out of a commitment to transparency and democratic membership participation in contract bargaining.  Those commitments kept me active in the union through the recent triennial election, where I ran for a Head Steward position.  My experience with the elections process led me to close study of the rights and privileges of the membership within our union and the democratic protections we all share as rank and file members.

Over the summer I stayed involved in a number of committees within the new statewide leadership, participating in planning for our new efforts to defend public education in California and acting as a rank and file representative of our local at the Council of Graduate Employee Unions, as well as working to organize my own department.  As part of these efforts I paid close attention to criticisms of UC policy and trends within higher education generally. As a result I have conducted my own investigations into UC budgeting and UCOP’s financial strategy, as well as the effects of UCOP policy on both TAs and students.

While I currently participate in our union both locally and at the statewide level and would continue to do so in my capacity as a Head Steward for our union, I am chiefly running for Recording Secretary because of the role I would play in contract bargaining.  I believe I possess both a knowledge of and an interest in the relevant data regarding our union and its contract, our work and its changing conditions, and the UC and its budgetary policies.  I hope to pair that knowledge with my commitment to transparent, factual analysis when we, in concert with the other unions at the UC, collectively bargain for a new contract in 2013.

As the UC continues to attempt to minimize its costs and increase its tuition revenues, we will find ourselves under increasing pressure and increasing vulnerability as workers. Only by coming together can we agree upon the sorts of protections we need to protect our status as both teachers and students and struggle together to achieve them. For more information about what I hope to contribute – or have already contributed – to our common efforts, please visit


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