SEATTLE (June 3, 2016) — On Thursday, UAW 4121 members and allies took action at the University of Washington to protest cuts to Teaching Assistant positions. UW Department Chairs in certain units within the College of Arts and Sciences have recently sent communications announcing drastic cuts — up to 30 percent of TA positions in some departments — in the upcoming academic year.
“In programs like mine, TAs who are stellar instructors and are close to graduating are suddenly being told that they don’t have a job next year,” said Sam Sumpter, UAW 4121 Executive Board member and Philosophy Department TA. “This has a real impact on people. But we know the university has the money, so we’re fighting back to prevent the cuts.”
The union filed a demand to bargain over this issue when it was nascent several weeks ago, and more recently followed up with an information request to learn how the university could justify its move to threaten these cuts. The university responded that cuts are being driven by enrollment changes in individual departments, and that TAs are being dropped where there are fewer students to teach.
But this justification was contradicted by other recent communications from university administrators.
“We just heard from our department chair a few weeks ago that they were cutting TA positions by 20 percent, but that in fact our student enrollment was about the same,” says Andrea Canini, UAW 4121 Bargaining Committee member and a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology. “Something is clearly not right, and yet we are being put on the chopping block.”
During the day of action union members confronted to multiple department chairs and the Dean of Arts and Sciences, delivering grievances, staging a teach-in about the corporatization of the University and neoliberalism, and occupying the President’s Office for several hours. Leaders from the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 1488 joined the action in solidarity, as did members of United Students Against Sweatshops.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant (pictured at right) visited the protestors during the sit-in, and expressed her solidarity and hand delivered a letter to the University President:
“At a time when the University’s overall budget is strong, and the administration continues to fund other priorities, including the expansion of administrative pay, it’s unacceptable to consider cutting TAs who perform much of the front-line instructional work of the University. Even as student enrollment fluctuates in certain areas, I would expect responsible administrators to have made plans in advance to ensure that student employees received necessary support.”
“We’re going to keep fighting to prevent these cuts, period,” said UAW 4121 President David Parsons. “Today’s action was not the end of our campaign.”