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News / Northwest

WWU student employees reach tentative contract deal

Two-day strike paused as union votes on whether to ratify agreement

By Rachel Showalter, The Bellingham Herald
Published: May 23, 2024, 8:43pm

BELLINGHAM — More than 1,100 Educational Student Employees at Western Washington University who went on strike Tuesday in a unionized effort to negotiate their first contract with university administration have reached a tentative deal as of Wednesday evening.

“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.

Hundreds of WWU students and employees went on strike for two full days, walking out of their jobs and protesting for more competitive wages, partial relief from tuition and fees, bereavement leave, and strong protections against discrimination and harassment.

“I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the student employees who played pivotal roles in representing WAWU or actively participating in the bargaining process. Your commitment to advocating for your fellow students has been truly commendable. Your active participation in such matters is a reminder not only of your dedication but also reinforces the reputation of WWU students as engaged and compassionate citizens,” said WWU President Sabah Randhawa in a letter from the Office of the President.

Many of the students’ demands were addressed in the tentative agreement.

The agreement was reached after university administration made “key concessions” toward college affordability, according to a release about the tentative agreement from the employees’ union, Western Academic Workers United (WAWU-UAW).

The student employees have paused striking while they vote on whether to ratify the tentative agreement. Union members were expected to meet Thursday evening to determine a timeline for the vote, according to the release. Western’s board of trustees must also approve the agreement.

“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.

The tentative agreement includes:

  • Substantial wage increases starting at $19 minimum wage beginning in January and rising over the course of the contract.
  • First-of-its-kind tuition relief program that allows working undergraduate students to earn an extra $2 per hour to offset tuition costs, up to a maximum of $500 per quarter. This rests on legislative approval.
  • Graduate employee salaries will rise by $250 per month, reaching $2,008 per month in 2025.
  • Discrimination and harassment protections, paid bereavement leave, holiday pay and paid trainings.