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Students participating in Western Washington University’s WAWU strike convene around major campus entrances, forming picket lines on May 21, 2024, in Bellingham, Wash. Strike participants chanted, directed traffic and discouraged people from crossing the picket lines. // Photo by Adam Rideout Redeker

Educational Student Employees (ESEs) began striking in front of Western Washington University’s Wade King Recreation Center on Tuesday at 5 a.m.

Satellite picket lines, or smaller pickets, formed around the High Street entrance to campus and the entrance to East College Way, with the main picket lines forming at the intersections of West College Way and Bill McDonald Parkway, 25th Street and Bill McDonald Parkway intersection, and at the entrance to campus between Nash Hall and Higginson Hall. 

The strike comes amid WAWU’s eight-month bargaining campaign with Western’s administration, where the 18 members of the union’s bargaining committee have been advocating for bereavement leave, strengthened harassment and discrimination protections, and increased hourly undergraduate wages to $20.28 — a step up of about 17.4% from employees currently earning Bellingham’s minimum wage of $17.28.

Ben Workman-Smith, a participant in the strike, said it feels good to know professors are canceling classes to show solidarity for the union’s strike. He also explained how most drivers, when approaching campus, have been receptive to their cause. 

“Most people are really vibing with us unless they have to be on campus,” Workman-Smith said. “Some have almost run us over though.” 

A Higginson Hall resident expressed frustrations with WAWU’s early morning chanting while still shouting their support of the strike.

Some of the chants included, “The workers united will never be divided,” and “Our work, our way, it’s a good day to disobey,” according to a song and chant flyer handed out by WAWU. 

According to Mara Rafferty, a member of the bargaining committee, members from WAWU’s sibling unions, such as the student union at the University of Washington and Central Washington University, will join the strike at Western. 

“I’m really proud that WAWU doesn’t stand by itself here in Bellingham,” Rafferty said. “We are a part of a larger group of more than 10,000 student workers across Washington state who have decided to form unions to fight for their rights.”

Professors across campus have been canceling classes today in solidarity with the strike, according to Rafferty.

“It’s a really powerful expression of workers at Western standing together, and we’re really appreciative of all our union siblings and all workers in the Western community,” Rafferty said. 

Some picket lines are designed to stop delivery trucks and other vehicles from crossing their lines. When stopped, participants hand the drivers a flyer explaining their cause and why they should not enter campus if avoidable, according to strike participant Parker Hopkins. 

Construction workers working on Kaiser Borsari Hall aren’t working Tuesday, according to a worker from Seattle who stepped out of his car on Bill McDonald Parkway and offered to buy coffee for the picketing student employees. Because of his own union involvement, the worker said he’s getting paid to sit in his hotel room for the day. 

Whatcom Transit Authority is also not running buses through Western’s campus on High Street, but rerouting them to pick up and drop off on Garden Street beneath the Viking Union, according to a post on X from Whatcom Transport Authority.  

Brad Johnson, provost and executive vice president at Western, released a statement saying, “WWU’s campus is open, and all student services are operating on a regular schedule. We are doing our utmost to reach an agreement with the union as soon as possible and to minimize any effect this may have on our academic mission. Supporting Western's student employees, and all students, is part of our core mission.”   

Peter Pihos is the president of United Faculty of Western Washington (UFWW) and professor of African American and modern U.S. history. According to open letters from UFWW and WAWU, Western administration allegedly asked faculty and faculty chairs to do the jobs of student workers.

“I think that WAWU has shown its willingness to be totally reasonable and to try to reach a compensation structure that the university can clearly afford,” Pihos said. “Honestly, I’m the most disappointed I’ve been since coming to Western six years ago, [seeing] the university’s total intransigence. The total cost of the proposals that WAWU has on the table right now is less than $3 million, which is a fraction of one percent of the university’s budget.”

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

Bodey Mitchell

Bodey Mitchell (he/him) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a second-year Journalism pre-major. In his spare time, Bodey can be found snowboarding or playing guitar. You can reach him at

Austin Wright

Austin Wright (he/him) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a second-year journalism/news ed major. When he’s not reporting, you can find him playing ultimate frisbee, watching soccer or hiking. You can reach him at

Adam Rideout Redeker

Adam Rideout Redeker is a campus life reporter for the Front. He is a third-year student studying visual journalism and Spanish. In his free time, Adam enjoys listening to music, spending time outdoors and hosting a weekly radio show on KUGS. Adam can be reached at

Julia Hawkins

Julia Hawkins (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year journalism/public relations major. Outside of reporting, Julia enjoys hanging out in The Planet office, baking and asking random people to pet their dogs. You can reach her at 

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