Western Washington University student workers vote to unionize

Jun 12, 2023, 2:36 PM

Western Washington student unionize...

Western Washington University campus. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Student workers at Western Washington University (WWU) are trying to start a union with a vote overwhelmingly in favor to unionize.

By an 805-19 vote Monday, Educational Student Employees at WWU decided to enter into a contract with Western Academic – UAW.

The workers represent tutors, teaching assistants, research assistants, and others who do instructional work.

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“The cost of living in Bellingham is rising fast, but a lot of student wages haven’t been adjusted since the 90s except for statewide minimum wage increases,” said Karna Ringham, a graduate teaching assistant in Kinesiology. “My coworkers and I have to work multiple jobs off campus after class, between teaching and on weekends. We know this makes it harder for people to stay enrolled and graduate on time.”

Students filed to form a union in December. The new union will be the largest in Whatcom County.

Students said they “lack secure rights and protections in the workplace, struggle with low compensation and inadequate health care, and face uncertainty about their careers.”

“Even though the election was scheduled during finals, we saw voter turnout over 75%,” said Lily Rayor, an undergrad teaching assistant in biology. “There’s a buzz on campus — everyone here knows that having a union is long, long overdue.”

The Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) is expected to issue an interim certification for the union in the coming days. Once certified, their next step will be to bargain with the WWU administration.

Union members have been preparing for bargaining for several months. The union has elected a bargaining committee and has conducted detailed bargaining surveys with hundreds of members. The union has also had a series of membership meetings focused on formulating priorities and goals for the first contract.

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“There are far too many problems that prevent people from attending Western and succeeding once they get here,” said Chris Reid, a graduate teaching assistant in English. “We need protections from wage theft, access to short- and long-term leave, reasonable scheduling, and fair and equal pay for equal work. As it stands, none of these things are guaranteed at Western.”

Educational Student Employees at Western will join the UAW, which represents nearly 100,000 student employees at more than 40 universities and colleges nationwide, including at the University of Washington, Washington State University, the University of California, and Columbia University.

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Western Washington University student workers vote to unionize