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News / Clark County News

WSU student employees union threatens to strike next week

Yearlong contract negotiations about wages, health care reaching boiling point

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 12, 2024, 2:56pm

The union representing academic student employees across the Washington State University system announced Friday afternoon it is prepared to go on strike starting Wednesday if it can’t reach a deal on a new contract in the coming days.

Known as the WSU Coalition of Academic Student Employees-UAW, the union represents 1,800 student employees at WSU systemwide, including about 100 at WSU Vancouver.

The union claims it has been bargaining with WSU administration on a new contract for more than a year and the school has not been receptive to its concerns about the student health care plan and other cost-of-living issues.

“Helping students better understand course material is one of my favorite parts of being a teaching assistant. But without proper support from WSU admin — including guarantees of fair wages and health care stability — we are unable to give our students the academic support they deserve,” Malcolm Anderson, a masters student in computer science at WSU Vancouver, said in a release from the union Friday.

A release on WSU’s website Monday indicated leadership was aware of the impending strike and shared details about proposed salary increases to student employees at each school campus.

“There’s still more work to do but we’re confident we can reach a fair and equitable agreement that recognizes the value of our academic student employees as well as the reality of the university’s resources,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz on the webpage.

Complaint filed

On Sept. 18, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Washington State Public Employment Commission alleging that WSU leadership failed to properly consult the union regarding comprehensive changes made to the student health care plan.

The current bargaining session is the first since the union was formally recognized in November 2022.

In the complaint, the union claimed it had expressed explicit interest in being involved in the creation of a new student health care plan.

Emails shared in the complaint revealed that WSU’s director of labor relations and disability services, Kendra Hsieh, had requested the union “share a list of topics to bargain regarding the student health insurance plan.” The complaint argues that the school didn’t adequately communicate about scheduling negotiation sessions throughout the summer and then made changes to the health care plan in August without warning.

The union and school bargaining teams will continue negotiations in the coming days to avoid a potential strike Wednesday, but no new sessions had been formally scheduled as of Friday afternoon.