The University of Washington will not see a student employee strike during finals week after all.
After months of negotiating, university administrators and student workers reached a contract deal Friday evening. Members of UAW 4121, which represents 4,500 student employees, voted 62 to 38 percent to approve the deal over the weekend. The deal will improve student employees' pay and health insurance. However, it does little to address one of the union's signature issues: fees that go toward campus facilities and transit access.
UAW 4121 members include graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants. Last month, they held a one-day strike. Union members planned another strike to start over the weekend, which would have run during finals week. This new deal averted that strike.
Ahead of the possible strike, UW administrators emailed student employees asking if they planned to work during the strike period and informing them "you will not be paid for intentionally failing to fulfill your job-related obligations." The union said the strategy was meant to intimidate student workers.
Over months of negotiating, the union has sought pay raises, relief from student fees, improved mental healthcare, more trans inclusive healthcare, increased funding for childcare, and expanded sexual harassment training. The university agreed to some improvements to healthcare coverage and childcare funds, but gave up little on the issue of fees. Earlier in bargaining, the administration agreed to expand coverage of trans health care, and waive deductibles for mental health coverage. The two sides also reached a deal to create a new sexual harassment training program for student employees.
The union argues student fees make it harder for academic student employees to make ends meet. Salaries for student employees at UW start at about $2,300 a month. Most work half-time while they pursue their research and degrees. The UW waives some fees for student employees, but requires them to pay other fees totaling about $950 per academic year. Student workers pay toward debt service for a recreational building and other facilities and pay a U-Pass fee for transit access, among other fees. The administration argues it would be unfair to further exempt student employees from fees other students pay.
In the final deal, UW did not waive any fees for student employees, but will provide them each a $100 lump sum payment each academic year. On pay, the union proposed wage increases each year of either 2 percent or increases that match other comparable universities (whichever is greater). The deal includes a 2 percent raise each year.
In a statement, UW President Ana Mari Cauce said the administration was "heartened by this result."
Cauce also said, "We recognize that our region’s sky-rocketing house costs are placing real financial stresses on our academic student employees, along with other members of our community, and we look forward to working together during the legislative session on behalf of funding for higher education and our top priority, which will continue to be better wages for all our employees."
Not all union members agreed with the outcome. Several student employees took to Twitter to express frustration that the deal capitulated to the administration. In a statement, the union bargaining committee acknowledged that a "significant percentage of members voted to reject this deal."
"It’s clear that there are areas in the contract that do not meet the needs of all [academic student employees] and therefore demand further action," the committee wrote. This summer, the union plans to negotiate alongside several other campus unions over the $252 U-Pass fee.
This post has been updated to clarify the types of buildings funded by student fees and with additional comment from UW President Ana Mari Cauce.