OLYMPIA (April 24, 2023) — After much work by labor and student groups across the state, Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday signed SB 5238, a bill which enshrines the collective bargaining rights of all academic student employees enrolled in Washington’s Regional Colleges and Universities. The bill was championed by WAWU-UAW, the union of students who work as teachers, researchers, and tutors at Western Washington University. It was also championed by UAW 4121, the Union of Academic Student Employees, Postdocs, and Researchers at the University of Washington, as well as the Washington Students Association, the Washington State Labor Council, and other activists from regional schools in Washington.
Prior to this bill being signed into law, the many student employees who teach, research, and tutor at the University of Washington and Washington State University already enjoyed collective bargaining rights. But student employees performing equivalent services at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, and The Evergreen State College did not.
“My coworkers and I from Western Academic Workers United-UAW are proud to have helped win collective bargaining rights for thousands more student employees in Washington. We look forward to swift certification of our union so we can get to work improving our university. And we’re very excited to continue the fight for students and student workers in our state,” said Chris Reid, a grad student and English Teaching Assistant (TA) at Western Washington University.
“The expansion of collective bargaining for employees enrolled in academic programs is not just a victory for their rights, but for the greater cause of fair labor practices in higher education and the importance of democracy in all aspects of civil life. This bill is a crucial step towards building a brighter future for all those who pursue academic excellence. Let us continue to support all those who contribute to our shared educational mission to have a voice and vote in their working conditions,” said state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), who sponsored the legislation.
“Academic student employees at Washington’s Regional Universities are critical to the success of these institutions. These workers deserve the parity this bill provides. It has been an honor to work with students and stakeholders to get this bill to the Governor’s desk, and ensure that these workers have the right to collectively bargain for basic protections and other critical benefits that workers depend on,” said state Rep. Mary Fosse (D-Everett).
“The UAW was proud to stand with the student workers in Washington who took their fight for a union all the way to the legislature. They have paved the way for thousands of academic workers to secure a voice at work—a right held by their colleagues at the University of Washington for over two decades, which has enabled them to improve their working conditions ever since,” said Mike Miller, Director of UAW Region 6.
In recent years, tens of thousands of academic workers across the country have organized with UAW, including University of California, University of Alaska, Columbia, and UConn. In Washington state, UAW Local 4121 is the union of nearly 10,000 ASEs, Postdocs, and Researchers at the University of Washington, where ASEs ratified their first contract in 2004. In November of 2022, 1,500 ASEs at Washington State University won their union last year and are currently in bargaining for their first-ever contract.
Having collective bargaining rights has helped student employees at the University of Washington achieve transformative changes at UW, including healthcare that’s fully paid for and inclusive of mental health and gender affirming health, groundbreaking programs to combat harassment and discrimination on campus, improvements to stipends and salaries to meet the rising cost of living, and much more.