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Western Academic Workers United set May 21 strike deadline

If Western fails to negotiate contract by Tuesday, a strike of educational student employees begins

A picketer holds a sign saying “Make school affordable” outside Old Main at Western Washington University in Bellingham Wash. on May 1, 2024. Student employees got more information regarding a potential strike during a town hall on May 14. // Photo courtesy of Selena Knoblauch

Western Academic Workers United has established a strike deadline for Educational Student Employees on May 21. The union held a town hall on Tuesday to discuss and answer questions regarding a future strike.

The deadline, announced on Tuesday, sets a date for student workers to strike if Western Washington University admin does not agree to the 37-proposal contract put forward by the union. 

If the union goes on strike, according to union organizers, roughly 1,100 Educational Student Employees will participate in a work stoppage and picket line on campus. Individual members are expected to protest at the picket line for at least 20 hours per week.

The deadline hangs over the union’s almost eight-month bargaining sessions with Western. Members are pushing for better wages and increased job security, among other demands on the WAWU website.

According to open letters from WAWU and United Faculty of Western Washington, university admin allegedly asked faculty and faculty chairs to cover the jobs of striking student workers.

Western Human Resources director and bargaining member Marcy Hammer stated in an email that the university “need[s] to prepare for all possible scenarios,” but that faculty have not been asked to teach beyond their assigned classes.

Hammer and Mara Rafferty, United Auto Workers lead organizer and WAWU liaison are hopeful the admin will negotiate and a strike is unnecessary. 

“We’ve let management know that the union is available to meet before then — if they want to meet during this week, this weekend, if they want to meet Monday night — we will meet with them and try to hash out a deal,” Rafferty said. 

Selena Knoblauch answers questions in Fraser Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham Wash. on May 14, 2024. Student employees got more information regarding a potential strike during the town hall. // Photo by Austin Wright

According to Paul C., a member of the United Faculty of Western Washington, who asked to keep his last name anonymous due to fear of repercussion, WAWU has taken the first big step of negotiating. 

“Winning [and] bargaining in the first place, getting that bill passed so you have the right to collective bargaining is a huge deal,” said C. “The biggest milestone will be your first contract and that'll solidify your foothold.” 

Since the discussion and bargaining have been ongoing, students have seen support from the faculty and staff in their respective departments, according to Peps Winchester, a Western student employee. However, bargaining with the university has been upsetting.

“I see the support from a lot of our staff currently, especially in our department, and it's been a discussion that's ongoing,” Winchester said. “However, going to the bargaining session earlier this week and seeing that that felt like a joke to watch [the admin] sit there and say, [employees will either get] better pay or keep your job, some of the things that were [said] were just ridiculous; it hurts to see how much they stalled against the workers who were actively trying to have a good discussion.” 

Students can help the union by joining the picket line and expressing their support to the admin, according to Lexy Aydelotte, a member of the bargaining committee. Additionally, non-student workers are encouraged to refrain from doing the work of the students on strike.

“The important thing is the will [power] there,” Rafferty said. “I think it’s unfortunate, and we want it to be over as soon as possible.”

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

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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