On Wednesday, June 8, members of UAW Local 4121 – Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, Tutors and other Academic Student Employees at the University of Washington – voted by an overwhelming majority (97%) to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement. Highlights include:
- Relief from fee increases: UW will offset the cost of increases in mandatory student fees (Building Fee and SAF Fee) by $50 in the next year;
- Expansion of family-friendly benefits: UW will begin a new Academic Student Employee childcare reimbursement program of up to $600 per quarter, and will not increase dependent health insurance premiums;
- Preservation of academic quality: Pending final approval of the anticipated budget, UW will preserve instructional and tutoring services in the College of Arts and Sciences. Teaching Assistants also may proactively address with supervisors matters class size increases or other matters that may make it difficult to maintain academic quality within contractual workload maximums;
- Protection of the health insurance plan: UW will maintain premiums and benefits at current levels.
The tentative agreement came after several months of campaigning by union members, which led to strong support from campus constituencies, community leaders, and legislators. A key issue was the rapid increase in mandatory student fees, which are uniquely affecting this workforce by cutting overall compensation and hurting UW’s competitiveness in recruitment efforts. UAW 4121 members have mobilized around this issue by organizing several actions, including a recent sit-down protest in Interim President Wise’s office to demand settlement of the contract. Members had also passed a resolution recommending a strike authorization vote before the end of the instruction period, which was called off when the parties reached agreement.
“It’s gratifying that so many members have been active all year – this was the real reason we made progress,” said David Parsons, Local 4121 President. “Our members have been demanding, rightly, that we find ways to keep Academic Student Employees from being disproportionately affected in this tough economic climate. The University stepped up in the final days and showed willingness to creatively problem-solve, so we made steps in the right direction.”
According to Ariah Kidder, a Research Assistant in the department of Earth and Space Sciences, members across campus are pleased with the new one-year agreement, but not ready to rest yet. “We see this as a good start, even if it’s not a total solution,” said Kidder. “The fee relief is helpful, and the new childcare program is great. People that I know support the agreement, and see it as a foundation for continuing the fight to make progress in future negotiations. This is about more than just our pocketbooks – it’s about protecting quality in instruction and research, and preserving the University’s competitiveness in recruiting the best and brightest to come here.”
The incoming Director of Governmental Affairs for the Associated Students of the University of Washington, Andrew Lewis, added his support after helping the Union with its yearlong campaign. “Students know that we need strong Academic Student Employees to keep our quality of education high. We’re pleased that the union fought to protect the level of instructional and tutoring services in one of our largest colleges (Arts and Sciences) as well as a provision allowing TAs to work proactively with their supervisors if they think academic quality might be compromised by class size increases or similar changes. This contract is good for students at the University of Washington.”
The new contract expires in one year, so negotiations are scheduled to begin again early in 2012. Says Vice President Jessica Pikul, “We’ll be back at it again before we know it. These are tough times for the University, so we know we’re going to need to put a lot into this if we want to continue to make progress.”
For more information about UAW 4121, visit www.UAW4121.org.