Members of the union that represents 4,500 teaching and research assistants at the University of Washington agreed April 30 to extend their contract by two weeks, averting a mass campus walk-out during a one-day "strike" held Monday May 3 to protest ongoing university budget cuts.
The strike was called by the Student Worker Coalition, a one-year-old group that has brought together UW students, staff and trade workers in a series of budget protests, including a demonstration of 500 people on March 4. In the lead-up to Monday's event, the group also created a media uproar after discovering that the UW police had sent an undercover officer to one of its organizing meetings.
The event included an early-morning picket of 50 students and staff members at the UW's entrance on Northeast 40th Street and 15th Avenue Northeast. They carried signs that read "No Furloughs, No Layoffs" and "Tax the Rich" and chanted "Down with the ivory tower. Let's show them some student power."
In the wake of losing 26 percent of its state funding last year, the university made $73 million in cuts, laid off more than 700 people and raised tuition 14 percent. It's now facing a new state cut of $21 million that will take effect July 1, says Norm Arkans, the UW's associate vice president for media relations.
The good news, says David Parsons, president of United Auto Workers Local 4121, the union representing the teaching and research assistants, is that a cut of 447 quarterly teaching positions that the university had planned in the College of Arts & Sciences is now off the table. But that still leaves undergrads and graduate TAs and RAs, who perform the bulk of the university's work at $12,000 to $15,000 a year, facing another 14 percent tuition increase this fall. Union members say that will amount to a de facto pay cut if the university does not agree to the cost-of-living wage increase they are seeking in contract talks that began in March.
For the research assistants, in particular, says Mary Anne Henderson, a union member who participated in Monday's picket, a wage cut "makes no sense at all because they write their own grants [and] bring in their own money"