Elections permit lobbying

by Kelly Hildebrandt

The state Bureau of Mediation Service made a surprising change to their election policy: While ballots are out, campaigning will no longer be restricted.
The change in election regulations was made about six weeks ago and has been implemented on a number of smaller elections, although not any at the magnitude of the upcoming graduate assistant union election, said Josh Tilsen, a mediator for the bureau.
Previously, while ballots were out, all types of campaigning were prohibited. The new regulations only prohibit University officials from threatening or promising prospective voters changes in work conditions and discriminating against an employee because of his or her union stance.
The bureau sent out ballots to about 4,000 University graduate assistants last Friday. The students will have until May 10 to return them.
To win an election, 50 percent plus one of the eligible graduate assistants who vote — teaching and research assistants — must be in favor of a union.
Some University officials are concerned that the change will affect voting.
“Ordinarily, on election day, no one is pressuring you to vote one way or another,” said George Green, associate dean of the Graduate School.
Election campaigning can include anything from individual conversations to large rallies. The Graduate Student Organizing Congress has largely focused on talking to students individually about their questions.
In addition, GradSOC and Graduate Students Against Unionization must not disturb graduate assistants during work.
Tilsen said the bureau began questioning the effectiveness of the regulations after a recent union election of about 10,000 people.
Due to the number of people, Tilsen said it was hard to enforce the regulations and there was confusion as to what was considered campaigning. For example, distinguishing between individual conversations and official campaign conversations is difficult.
“We’re pleased about the ruling,” said Melinda Jackson, a GradSOC member.
Although Jackson believes most graduate assistants have already decided whether they want union representation, she said the extended campaigning will give GradSOC time to provide information to those who haven’t made up their minds.
Paul Enever, a representative of GSAU said although he was surprised the bureau changed such a long-standing policy, it makes sense, given the difficulty the bureau would have trying to regulate campaigning.