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News / Northwest

UW student workers reach a deal with university after one-day strike

By Vonnai Phair, The Seattle Times
Published: May 15, 2024, 4:32pm

May 15—Some 6,000 student academic employees at the University of Washington reached a tentative agreement with the school Tuesday evening just hours after thousands went on strike.

The new contract includes a 36% increase to the minimum pay by 2026 — the largest the bargaining unit has won in a contract, according to the United Auto Workers Local 4121. Many student employees currently make less than $2,700 per month in base wage for working half-time, of about 20 hours a week.

The contract also includes hourly wage increases, increased child care reimbursements, improved health care coverage, and first-ever paid leave for immigration appointments and hearings, among other things, the union said in its website.

On Tuesday, the union staged picket lines at five sites on UW’s Seattle campus and organized a rally at Red Square.

The union — which represents undergraduate and graduate students who work as research and teaching assistants, tutors and predoctoral instructors — announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the university shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday on X.

Union members will vote from noon Wednesday to 7 p.m. Friday on whether to ratify the agreement. They will stop striking during the voting period.

The student employees voted nearly unanimously last month to call for Tuesday’s strike after their union and university officials failed to reach an agreement on future wage increases.

Before the tentative agreement, the union and school held 19 bargaining sessions and agreed on all but one of 37 provisions in the contract, with the school offering a base salary rate increase of 8% for 2025 and 2026, compared to the union’s requested 12% for the same period.

The tentative agreement proposes 10% base increase for 2025 and 2026.

Bargaining sessions began in February and grew contentious on May 2.

The student employees allegedly filled College of Arts & Science dean Dianne Harris’ office area that day for hours, chanting, “Shut it down” and repeatedly knocking on Harris’ office door. The crowd became “increasingly confrontational,” according to an unfair labor practice complaint filed May 9 against the union by UW assistant vice president of labor relations Banks Evans.

Sally Clark, UW’s vice president for campus community safety, eventually called UW police and asked the officers to escort Harris and other staff out of the building, according to the complaint.

In a May 10 statement, the union criticized the school for calling UW police on the group of student employees who were “engaging in protected union activities to peacefully yet powerfully make their voices heard.”

About 2,400 UW research scientists and engineers represented by the same union went on a nine-day strike last June after failing to reach agreements on their respective contracts. Their new contracts included a 33% increase to the minimum pay over the life of the contract, which ends in 2026, and future wage increases that keep up with the cost of living.