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Student employees at the University of Washington say they'll walk off the job for two weeks during one of the busiest times of the school year if they can't reach a deal with the school by Friday. The escalation comes after months of contract negotiations and a one-day strike earlier this month.
Members of UAW 4121—primarily graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants—are seeking pay raises, fee decreases, and better healthcare coverage. Their current contract expired April 30 and negotiations have been ongoing with mediators present. A final bargaining session is scheduled for Friday. If a deal is not reached, student workers plan to begin striking Saturday. The strike would continue from June 2 to 15. Final exams at UW run from June 2 to 8.
The two sides have reached compromises on several key issues, including healthcare and childcare. The administration has agreed to increase childcare subsidies and expand coverage of trans health care. The school also agreed to waive deductibles for mental health coverage.
However, according to the union, the school is only making those offers as part of its full contract proposal, which the union maintains is inadequate.
The university is proposing 2 percent wage increases each year for a three-year contract. The union is proposing increases each year of either 2 percent or increases that match other comparable universities, whichever is greater.
Even with pay increases, the union argues student fees still cut into their members' pay, so the union is asking the university to waive student fees for student workers.
The university counters that because the workers are also students who can access the services funded by the fees, they should pay the fees. School administrators say waiving the fees for student employees would be unfair to other students.
The union's latest ask is for a remission of fees. That would mean the services would continue to be funded but the money would come from the administration budget. The administration has rejected that offer.
According to the university, academic student employees make a median wage of $32 an hour for 20-hour-per-week positions. However, student employees describe struggling to make ends meet, particularly with rising housing costs in Seattle. According to the union, 82 percent of graduate student employees are rent burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent.
In a statement, UW spokesperson Victor Balta said the administration is "very disappointed" at the announcement of a strike.
"The UW is working with deans, chancellors and department chairs to avoid disruption or delay in grades or graduation should the [academic student employees] strike," Balta said.