WSU student worker strike lasts 2 hours before university makes these concessions

Unionized student workers were on the snow-covered picket lines for only a couple hours Wednesday morning at several Washington State University campuses before reaching a tentative agreement on their first labor contract.

The announcement from the WSU Coalition of Academic Student Employees-United Auto Workers (CASE-UAW) marks an end to a year of collective bargaining between the university and employees.

Workers say the tentative agreement includes several wins, such as a wage increases for all, better health benefits and lower deductibles, guaranteed partial fee remission and an extra two weeks of paid parental leave.

The contract will benefit more than 1,800 student workers, mostly graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, research assistants, tutors and graders who work in Pullman, Vancouver, Spokane and several other campuses. That also includes dozens of researchers at the WSU Tri-Cities campus.

“Through their determination and mass collective action, academic student employees at Washington State University enshrined their rights at work for the first time ever,” said Mike Miller, director of UAW Region 6, in a statement. “Their contract paves the way for a stronger, more equitable workplace for current and future ASEs at WSU, and for academic workers everywhere.”

Carrington Moore, an organizer and fourth-year graduate student working for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s WSU Distinguished Graduate Research Program in Richland, said the union’s united and strong action is what led to the quick agreement.

“I am so incredibly proud of the support among the graduate students here in the Tri-Cities,” she said in a statement.

Back in November, WSU CASE-UAW workers held a strike authorization vote after frustrations boiled over that university administration was not willing to make the concessions students said were needed.

Negotiations had started that previous February, and more than 200 proposals and 40 different contract articles had been exchanged over the previous nine months. Students voted overwhelmingly to OK the labor strike, with 93% in approval.

This past week, WSU Pullman Chancellor Elizabeth Chilton said the impending strike was not expected to impact operations in labs and classrooms.

Additional class work that would normally be done by teaching assistants would be placed on individual instructors and departments. The university also identified temporary plans to continue research in the absence of research assistants.

“Our students play a key and integral role in our public research structure. Our academic student employees are also our colleagues in research, teaching and service, and the potential impacts of this kind of collective action are significant and far-reaching,” wrote WSU System President Kirk Schulz in a Tuesday statement, just hours before students began picketing.

“While I regret that they believe a work stoppage is necessary at this time, I do not believe that this is reflective of negotiations or the generosity of the proposals we’ve put forward over the last 10 months,” he continued.

One of the final proposed packages from the university would have allotted nearly $16 million in additional wages alone through 2026, and included several improvements for work leave and other benefits.

The tentative agreement includes a base monthly wage of $2,318 for salaried student workers in Pullman (a 39% increase), a minimum 5% wage increase for all students not impacted by the new salary floor, an hourly minimum wage of $17.09, guaranteed tuition remission and waived building fees, lower health care deductibles, paid vacation time, immigration support and protection against firing without just-cause.

The proposed agreement will be presented to unit members for a ratification vote Jan. 19-25.