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BREAKING: Western Academic Workers United vote yes on strike authorization

Educational student employees' vote passes by 93%; will not initiate immediate strike

Students hold picket signs and chant outside Old Main at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. on May 1, 2024. The event coincided with International Workers’ Day. // Photo courtesy of Selena Knoblauch

Members of Western Academic Workers United voted in favor of a strike authorization for educational student employees. The online voting among the union’s nearly 1,100 students passed with 93% voting “yes,” from Monday to Thursday. 

The vote passing does not mean a strike is imminent. Instead, it allows the 18 members of WAWU’s bargaining committee to set a deadline for the university to meet their demands. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, a strike is likely for educational student employees.

The result comes amid WAWU entering their eighth month of bargaining sessions with Western Washington University administrators. The union is advocating for increased pay, strengthened job security, and tuition and fee waivers, among other demands listed on the WAWU website.

“These results are incredibly powerful. Student employees across WWU are beyond frustrated at how the administration is behaving,” graduate teaching assistant and WAWU bargaining committee member Selena Knoblauch said in a statement. “It's pretty clear that people are not going to accept the administration's intransigence.”

Jude Ziliak (right) speaks into a megaphone outside Old Main at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. on May 1, 2024. Ziliak was one of several student employees to give a speech protesting wages and working conditions. // Photo courtesy of Selena Knoblauch

According to Western Human Resources Director Marcy Hammer, 18 of the 37 proposed articles in the WAWU-sponsored contract have been agreed upon. 

She stated the university has “not asked faculty to teach beyond their assigned classes,” despite United Faculty of Western Washington claiming in an open letter that staff, faculty and other student employees have been asked to cover student work if a strike occurs.

“At WWU, the vast majority of our undergraduate courses are taught by our faculty,” Hammer said in an email. “We pride ourselves on the unique levels of access that our undergraduate students have to faculty members, and only a small percentage of courses would potentially be affected by an educational student employee work stoppage.”

This is WAWU’s first strike vote and latest win since the group became public on Dec. 2, 2022, when workers filed to unionize. Members gained significant momentum in their effort for a contract after Gov. Jay Inslee’s passage of SB 5238 on April 20, 2023, which mandated Western to begin collective bargaining. Following this, WAWU voted to officially unionize with a margin of 98% on June 12, 2023.

“It is incredibly motivating and inspiring to see all of us standing together and asserting how valuable our labor is,” said Willow Heidt, an undergraduate tutor in the Hacherl Research and Writing Studio, in an email statement. “We put so much of ourselves into our jobs and they do matter.”

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

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