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UW’s ASEs begin strike vote over sexual harassment issues

The following is from UAW 4121, the union of Academic Student Employees at the University of Washington:

SEATTLE (April 20, 2018) — On Monday, more than 100 UW Academic Student Employees packed into contract negotiations with the UW central administration, and determined that it was time to initiate a strike authorization vote among the UAW Local 4121 membership. The vote to authorize a strike, should circumstances dictate, began Wednesday and will run through April 24.

The decision to hold a strike authorization vote came after the ASEs delivered a petition, signed by a majority of the bargaining unit, demanding that the UW administration agree to proposals that will address the rampant problems of sexual harassment and discrimination. It also followed a presentation by the University’s Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, in which he and the Vice President of Human Resources communicated that they could not answer key questions posed by the ASEs who were assembled. This continued the university’s pattern of withholding key information about university finances (despite claiming on multiple occasions that the institution is out of money), and of stalling responses to key demands.

“It’s really hard for me to buy the administration crying poor when we see there was a $250 million budget increase from 2016 to 2017 and a total $7.2 billion dollar annual budget,” said Mandy McCourt, an Instructor in the English Department. “TAs and RAs play a critical role in UW’s teaching and research mission and in attracting new research grants, yet the administration is refusing to compensate us fairly and wants to make attending UW even more expensive. Unfortunately, talent will go elsewhere if they don’t recognize the contributions we make.”

After the UW administration refused to honor a mutually agreed upon deadline to resolve the union’s demands for greater equity and proposals to end sexual harassment, hundreds of ASEs attended contract negotiations on April 5. The university has since agreed to support development of peer-led sexual harassment orientations and the establishment of stronger interim and anti-retaliation measures to better protect those who wish to report discrimination and harassment, but has refused to agree to departmental equity committees that would work with departments to fight discrimination and support underrepresented ASEs through their academic programs.

“It’s really shocking to me that in this new era of acknowledging the dangers and impacts of sexual harassment, the University of Washington is so resistant to taking action on this issue. While they have met us halfway on some of our proposals, they still aren’t working with us nearly enough to change the culture on campus to protect vulnerable students. We can’t wait anymore for these problems to resolve themselves, we need action now,” said Shua Sanchez, a Research Assistant in the Physics Department.

For the past 2 months, UAW Local 4121, the union of Academic Student Employees at the University of Washington, has been in bargaining for a new contract. Their current contract expires April 30. ASEs can cast their vote anonymously online or through a paper ballot.

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