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News / Northwest

1,100 Western Washington University student employees file to form union

By Rachel Showalter, The Bellingham Herald
Published: December 15, 2023, 3:17pm

BELLINGHAM — More than 1,000 Operational Student Employees of Western Washington University filed to unionize on Wednesday, citing ongoing struggles with low and late pay, unsafe work environments and unpredictable schedules.

The students — about 1,100 altogether — filed with majority support at the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission and delivered a letter to Western’s administration requesting recognition for their union, Western Academic Workers United-UAW, according to an announcement made by the students.

They will be the first unionized student employees in Washington doing work other than academic work, the announcement states.

“We are really excited to have collected so much support for our union in just a few months,” University Advancement Office student employee Kaylee Thomas said in the announcement. “It’s a testament to how urgent the need for our union is. We hope Western won’t put up any delays so that we can get to bargaining and address the issues we face like low pay and a lack of safety measures and training.”

Western Washington University declined to provide a statement in response to the filing.

Operational Student Employees include program support staff, recreation assistants, clerks, laborers, lifeguards, resident advisers, assistants and editors.

The group includes hundreds of undergraduate students from every program.

“Many of the jobs Operational Student Employees do are behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important,” student fitness trainer Abbi Matthews said in the announcement. “Western works because we do. All workers deserve to be paid fairly and on time, and trained appropriately so they don’t get hurt on the job.”