The union representing academic student employees across the Washington State University system declared on Friday that they are ready to initiate a strike beginning on Wednesday, unless a new contract agreement is reached in the next few days.
The union, known as the WSU Coalition of Academic Student Employees-UAW, represents approximately 1,800 student employees at WSU systemwide. This includes around 100 student employees at WSU Vancouver.
The union alleges that it has been engaging in negotiations with the WSU administration for over a year, but the school has shown little willingness to address their concerns regarding the student health care plan and other matters related to the cost of living.
Malcolm Anderson, a masters student in computer science at WSU Vancouver, expressed his passion for assisting students in comprehending course material. However, he highlighted the need for adequate support from WSU administration, which includes fair wages and healthcare stability. Anderson emphasized that without these provisions, teaching assistants are unable to provide students with the academic support they truly deserve.
WSU’s website released a statement on Monday stating that the university’s leadership was fully aware of the upcoming strike. The statement also included information about the proposed salary increases for student employees at each of the school’s campuses.
“We still have more work ahead, but we are optimistic that we can achieve a fair and balanced agreement that acknowledges the importance of our academic student employees and takes into consideration the university’s available resources,” expressed WSU President Kirk Schulz on the official website.
The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Washington State Public Employment Commission on September 18. They alleged that WSU leadership did not properly consult them regarding the comprehensive changes made to the student health care plan.
The union was formally recognized in November 2022, and the current bargaining session marks the first negotiation since then.
The union expressed explicit interest in being involved in the creation of a new student health care plan, according to the complaint.
In the complaint, it was revealed that Kendra Hsieh, the director of labor relations and disability services at WSU, had asked the union to provide a list of topics for negotiating the student health insurance plan. According to the complaint, the school failed to effectively communicate about the scheduling of negotiation sessions during the summer and then implemented changes to the health care plan in August without prior notice.
The union and school bargaining teams are currently in negotiations, working towards a resolution to prevent a potential strike that could occur on Wednesday. However, as of Friday afternoon, no new negotiation sessions had been officially scheduled.