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UW Teaching Assistants And Graders Plan To Go On Strike Starting On Saturday

Ashley Gross
UW academic student employees at a rally earlier this month

Students who work at the University of Washington as teaching assistants, research assistants, readers, graders and tutors are planning to go on strike starting this Saturday, a move that threatens to disrupt final exams and delay grades.

The 4,500 academic student employees are represented by UAW Local 4121 and have been bargaining with the university administration for a new contract.

The two sides are still negotiating wage increases and the union wants its members to be exempt from paying some student fees. The union has proposed that wages be kept in line with pay at peer institutions such as the University of California, while UW has proposed 2 percent increases in each year of the three-year contract.

“The cost of living in this region is a hugely important issue for our members,” said Sam Sumpter, financial secretary for UAW 4121. “It’s something that really is pushing people from underrepresented groups out of academia.”

The university said it would be unfair to use tuition dollars of other students to subsidize the student fees of the academic student employees, and the university said it’s already given substantial wage increases to the union members over the past five years.

The impending strike has raised a lot of questions for undergraduate students, including who will proctor their final exams and how long it will take to receive grades, said Emily Gilbert, a junior majoring in journalism who has been covering the contract negotiations for the campus newspaper, The Daily.

“One of the biggest things that the union members do is grading and with the class sizes that we have at UW, expecting one professor to grade 400 exams – you can see how that wouldn’t work,” she said.

A university official emailed students saying the administration values the TAs, graders and other academic student employees and is disappointed about the strike plans. He said the university will make sure undergraduates can complete their courses and that seniors can graduate on time.

The union and university officials are set to bargain again on Friday, June 1.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.