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TAA – Executive Board
UW-Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association Executive Board Defends Union’s Democratic Process
Madison, WI (May 25, 2016): In the wake of recent reactions to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association’s (TAA) vote in favor of a resolution to endorse the Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, the TAA Executive board wishes to respond in utmost defense of the democratic, open voting process by which our union came to its decision.
From September 2015 to May 2016, the Palestine Solidarity Caucus (PSC), an independent caucus of members formed within the parameters of the TAA constitution, had presented information at General Membership Meetings, hosted discussion forums, and sought feedback from other members on the endorsement of BDS. Information about BDS and the PSC’s proposed resolution were shared widely via membership emails and on social media. In April, attendees at a General Membership Meeting voted unanimously to place the resolution on an electronic ballot as part of annual TAA officer elections, so as to ensure the largest possible participation of membership. (In contrast, most decisions about endorsements and sponsorships are made directly by members in attendance at the General Membership Meetings, which historically have lower turnout than the number who participate in officer elections.) Prior to this final vote, the PSC held two separate town hall meetings for members to discuss and voice any concerns over the resolutions. In addition, the PSC independently organized office visits to TAA members to make sure they were aware of the vote. In the final tally, 81% of voting members supported the BDS resolution.
We encourage all interested parties to read the specific text of the resolution. The resolution calls specifically for the AFL-CIO (our parent union to which we pay fees) and University of Wisconsin System to divest from Israeli state institutions and international corporations complicit in the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights. Above all, we wish to make clear that we are first and foremost accountable to our membership. It is our responsibility to make sure our members feel heard and supported within our union. It is also incumbent upon us to uphold the constitution and follow our procedures that ensure a democratic process. It is neither our right nor our responsibility, however, to interfere with the wishes and activities of our membership. The union speaks through the actions of the membership, actions that we are constitutionally bound to uphold and defend.
As leaders of the TAA we will not tolerate any forms of intimidation or retaliation against any of our members. We also recognize that our Jewish members may be feeling the most acute pressures at this time, regardless of where they stand on this issue. It is therefore our priority that the climate of our union and on our campus is one of respect, healthy debate, and care for each other. We will continue to hold spaces for discussion around this issue in which all members are invited and encouraged to participate.
The TAA has a long history of acting in solidarity with other movements beyond the labor issues of UW campus. It is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States and advocates for a university that is fair to all—including students, workers, and their families. Graduate student workers perform nearly half of all the instruction that takes place at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, while also taking classes and conducting research. The university works because we do.