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Contract Negotiations Are Underway Between Student Workers And The University Of Washington

Ted Warren
AP Images
Students and other supporters protest, Wednesday, April 1, 2015, as they walk through the main library on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, in support of raising the minimum wage for campus workers to $15 an hour.


Thousands of workers at the University of Washington who teach classes, grade papers and conduct scientific research are negotiating a new contract with the university.


They are collectively known as Academic Student Employees, or ASEs. Many are pursuing graduate degrees and are PHD candidates. Roughly 4,000 ASEs are represented by United Auto Workers Local 4121. UAW has been organizing student workers on college campuses across the country.


The union’s priorities for the new contract include a pay raise and an end to fees that UW charges students for things such as maintaining the athletics building and improving technology on campus.


Academic Student Employees earn a wide range of salaries. For example, a civil engineering teaching assistant can make anywhere from $1800 to $3700 monthly, depending on qualifications. Other student workers, such as tutors, are paid hourly.


“Many of our members come here and are shocked that half of their first paycheck goes to pay for these fees that aren’t waved when they are up against rent in a city like Seattle where rent is only going up. When they’re up for paying for groceries and these fees often add up to a month’s worth of groceries,”  says Elizabeth Mills, a spokesperson for the union. Mills is also working on her PHD in library science and early childhood education.




Another issue student workers want the university to formally recognize in the contract is “micro aggression.” Mills says these are everyday words and actions that exclude people based on who they are.


“It can be things like comments around gender, sexual orientation, comments around racial identity, gender identity. And the UW prides itself and clearly states all over its website that they’re this inclusive campus and yet these are taking place and the university is reticent to deal with it.”


University officials will not comment on active negotiations. The current contract expires on April 30.


The union will hold a strike vote today, Monday, that will run through Tuesday. It would give the union the authority to call a strike if negotiations fall apart. Two thirds of the voters need to approve the order.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.