Over 100 Teaching assistants of the UAW Local 2865 union attended the first statewide meeting under newly elected leadership. Photo by Sal Ingram

Heavy applause erupted as the 10 newly elected Executive Board members of the teaching assistants’ union, UAW Local 2865, were introduced at the first statewide membership meeting on Saturday.

Following a contentious election, all 10 Executive Board members come from the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) slate.

“This was probably twice as big as any meeting we’ve had in the past,” said Executive Board president and UC Irvine graduate student Cheryl Deutsch. “It’s the only venue where members get to make decisions.”

In order to make any decisions, meetings need to have quorum, over 100 members in attendance. Deutsch said they have never before achieved quorum in their local’s history.

Holding at least one statewide meeting a year is mandatory, according to the UAW bylaws. Executive Board members want to hold them twice a year, alternating campuses.

As excited TAs hit the tables in the UC Berkeley Boalt Law school classroom to cheer for their new officials, members of the opposing party, United for Social and Economic Justice (USEJ), did not share the same level of enthusiasm.

UC Davis head steward and USEJ member Xochitl Lopez said organizers gave only two weeks’ notice for the meeting, and violated by-laws. UCB is no longer in session, even though all campuses are supposed to be when the statewide meetings are held.

“The meeting was problematic,” Lopez said. “It was called to disenfranchise people from our slate [USEJ] specifically.”

An estimated 130 members attended. Around eight were USEJ members, and the rest were from AWDU. Northern UC campuses are known to have a higher AWDU membership and southern campuses tend to have higher USEJ memberships. Deutsch said members from the north were over-represented, as the meeting was held at UC Berkeley.

Soon-to-be UCLA graduate student and USEJ member Sayil Camacho won the most votes for the UCLA head steward position, but was voted out of office at the meeting because she was not an enrolled student. Camacho was accepted by UCLA in January and is starting class in fall 2011.

“I’m not just going to hand over my position because … they say I can’t participate,” Camacho said.

Camacho received emails she said were accidentally forwarded by elections committee member and UC Santa Cruz graduate student Adam Hefty. She said elections committee members are supposed to remain unbiased, but in the emails Hefty discussed her elegibility to run with AWDU members.

“It’s clear if I had been on the AWDU slate my eligibility wouldn’t have been questioned,” Camacho said.

UCLA AWDU members initially approached Hefty regarding Camacho’s eligibility and he said he intentionally made that information public by putting it on a blog and on Facebook.

“I encouraged people to get back to me with feedback and concerns,” Hefty said. “I had easier access to AWDU perspectives, being from UCSC.”

Hefty acknowledged his sympathies for AWDU and said the majority of the elections committee are aligned with USEJ.

Executive Board president Cheryl Deutsch said she told attending USEJ members that as difficult as it may have been, she hopes they were not intimidated by parliamentary procedure.

The next statewide meeting will be held at a Southern California campus and Deutsch said she thinks attendance will increase.

“It was a great feeling to achieve that quorum,” said Brian Malone, UCSC graduate student and former campus head steward. “It’s just something that [hasn’t happened] … Even though statewide meetings are required, they weren’t taken seriously.”

Despite Camacho’s situation, she appreciates the interest of union members.

“Having two slates is a good thing,” Camacho said. “It means people are interested.”