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ESEs reach TA at Western

Agreement includes wage increases, tuition-relief program for working undergrads

The following is from WAWU-UAW:

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (May 23, 2024) — On Wednesday night, Educational Student Employees reached a tentative agreement on a first contract with Western Washington University, after a two-day strike and protests involving hundreds of WWU employees and students. They reached a Tentative Agreement after WWU administration made key concessions that secured a groundbreaking agreement with huge steps forward for college affordability. ESEs will pause striking while they vote on whether to ratify the agreement. 

Highlights include a first in the nation tuition-relief program for working undergrad students, significant wage increases, strong protections against discrimination and harassment, paid bereavement leave, holiday pay, paid trainings, and more. The contract secures benefits and protections for a workforce made up of majority undergraduate student workers, which is still relatively rare. 

The agreement will help students with jobs afford to live in Bellingham. Undergraduate workers secured substantial wage increases, rising to a $19 minimum wage for this coming January and rising over the course of the contract. The contract also includes a pilot of a tuition relief program, where working undergraduate students will earn an extra $2 per hour to offset tuition costs, for a maximum of $500 per quarter, contingent upon legislative approval. Salaries for graduate employees will rise by $250 per month, reaching $2,008 per month next year. 

A major dispute during the negotiations was the University’s proposal to introduce a new probationary period for student workers. After two days of striking and an uproar on campus, the new contract does not include probation or any other carve-outs of student workers’ rights.

“The University didn’t think we had the power to achieve our demands, but our collective action showed them otherwise. This historic agreement is a testament to what is possible when workers stand together. We are so proud that our efforts will help college become more affordable for current and future student workers at Western, which creates a brighter future for the entire Whatcom area,” said Ben Workman Smith, a graduate assistant in the Music Department.

“We are thrilled to have secured an agreement that will help student workers at Western thrive, rather than barely get by or be forced out altogether. Hundreds of ESEs came together to make this happen—and now, by improving our pay and working conditions we can focus on our teaching and our research which is what we’re here to do, and which make Western a stronger institution,” said Jaime Blais, a Teaching Assistant in Biology.

“Educational Student Employees at Western refused to settle and took their power to the picket lines. They secured a historic agreement which will improve their pay and working conditions, and protect and raise standards for student workers everywhere,” said Mike Miller, Director of UAW Region 6.

ESEs took their message directly to the Office of the President and spoke with President Randhawa about their demands.

“For too long, there’s been a perception that our jobs aren’t real jobs, and our work is just for learning opportunities,” said Lexy Aydelotte, a member of the WAWU bargaining committee. “But after we showed what it looks like when we didn’t show up to work, we’re hoping there will never again be a question about the value of our work in making the institution run.”

The two-day strike saw widespread support from other Western employees and Bellingham-area workers, who refused to cross the union’s picket lines in support. The contract will now go to the union’s membership for a ratification vote. Members will meet tonight to decide the timeline for the vote.

In recent months, UAW academic workers at the University of Washington, Washington State University, Mount Sinai, and the University of California have secured industry-leading contracts after being forced to strike in the course of contract negotiations.

Educational Student Employees at Western work doing teaching, research, and related varied roles in the University’s educational ecosystem. Of the 1,100 members of the union, 900 are undergraduates, and 200 are graduates. These workers play an invaluable role in teaching classes, doing research, advising and tutoring students, and other valuable work that makes Western run.

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