Western Washington University academic student employees of Western Academic Workers United filed to form a union on Friday, Dec. 2, with the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) in Olympia. Members of the group also delivered a letter of intent to unionize to President Sabah Randhawa.
Academic student employees include teaching assistants, research assistants and tutors. If certified by PERC, Western Academic Workers United would represent these roughly 700 employees in negotiating a contract with Western administration.
To become certified as a union, more than half of Western’s academic student employees must sign authorization cards for PERC to review. Lexy Aydelotte, an organizer of the group and teaching assistant in Western’s history department, said an overwhelming majority of academic student employees have signed on.
Aydelotte said Western Academic Workers United hopes to focus on issues like attaining living wages, increasing hiring transparency and improving health care options for academic student employees. Unionizing would distinguish Western Academic Workers United from other student groups by giving them equal bargaining power with the university.
“The idea of collective bargaining is that, together, we're able to accomplish things and have a say in our workplace conditions and our compensation that we can't have if we act individually,” Aydelotte said. “It's really about asserting our democratic rights in the workplace.”
Western Academic Workers United took root during the COVID-19 pandemic when academic student employees began meeting to discuss concerns over issues like long hours and inadequate training. The group went public in the fall quarter of 2022.
Now, they’re working to join a growing movement of academic student employees demanding a place at the bargaining table. In November, unionized academic workers from all 10 University of California schools went on a nearly 48,000-person strike.
“There's a huge demand on campus for the workers here to have a say, and there are a lot of important reasons that we want to do this,” Aydelotte said. “The rapid amount of support for this cause has been really overwhelming.”
Olivia Palmer (she/her) is the city news editor for The Front this quarter. She's a fourth-year environmental journalism major who loves running, playing violin and swimming in alpine lakes. She's excited to be spending her last quarter at Western back in the newsroom.
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