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UW’s student employees reject final offer, may strike May 15

The following is from UAW 4121:

SEATTLE (May 7, 2018) — Members of UAW Local 4121, the union of 4,500 Academic Student Employees (ASEs) at the University of Washington, voted last week to reject the university’s last contract proposal by a margin of 2,272 to 196, choosing instead to continue to push for fair compensation and stronger equity measures.

The vote followed a volatile negotiation session last Monday night, when about 400 ASEs turned out for the final bargaining session before contract expiration. Bargaining came to a dramatic halt after the university administration barred the building doors to prevent more ASEs from entering and had the UW Police escort members out of the building.

“At one point on Monday evening there were about 400 ASEs waiting for the university bargaining team to accept the proposal or provide a counter offer, but we had to relocate because the administration called the police,” said Stephanie Ballard, a first-year PhD student in the Information School. “The university’s bargainers have treated us with an immense amount of disrespect and continue to undervalue the work we do to make UW an elite institution.”

Union members have already authorized the bargaining committee to call for a strike should circumstances warrant, with 2630 votes cast and 96% of ASEs voting in favor. ASEs are preparing to strike on Tuesday, May 15 but are hopeful UW administration will reach a fair agreement with members before that date.

While the parties have made some progress since negotiations began in February, the UW administration is still unwilling to agree to key union demands meant to improve equity on campus. UW administration’s last proposal included only 2% wage increases for each of the three years of a proposed agreement, and it also included a major takeaway that would enable UW to impose new fees or increase existing fees without having to increase the waiver, effectively negating any wage increases.

“ASEs on average pay 44% of their wages in rent, and payment of unwaived student fees adds to this burden,” said Monica Cortes Viharo, UAW Local 4121 Executive Board member and graduate student in the Drama Department. “International students, people of color, women and LGBTQIA+ individuals are disproportionately impacted. The vast majority of the UW’s academic student employees are having to skimp on food, clothing, child care, and other basic necessities. We need student fees waived and a modest wage increase just to get by.”

In addition to compensation, the UW administration and UAW 4121 remain at odds over the health care plan, which ASEs assert is currently discriminatory in its coverage of trans individuals and doesn’t adequately provide support for mental health issues.

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