UW, TAs settle before strike deadline

As the clock raced toward a strike deadline, the University of Washington and a union representing its teaching assistants came to an agreement that avoided a walkout by the UW’s 1,600 TAs just before Fall Quarter classes ended.

The UW recognized the Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition/United Auto Workers (GSEAC/UAW) Dec. 4 as the “majority representative” for those TAs and tutors who signed authorization cards.

The union declared the agreement a victory and called off a strike set for the morning of Dec. 4. “By demonstrating the strength of our resolve to strike to win recognition, we moved the University faster and further than any other TA union has,” leaders said in a letter to their members.

The UW did not concede completely to union demands, which were full recognition and bargaining over working conditions and wages. In a statement, the UW said it “will meet and confer with the union over terms and conditions of employment.”

The UW committed itself to working with union representatives to pass enabling legislation during the current session of the state Legislature. As a state agency, the UW says it must have approval from the Legislature before it bargains with an employee classification. Currently all 33 bargaining units in nine unions at the UW negotiate under enabling legislation.

Karen Kavanagh, assistant vice president for human resources at the UW, said, “The University is confident that together, union and management can work productively to move legislation and create a positive relationship.”

A strike in early December could have caused major disruptions during the last week of classes and final exams. Some professors had already changed due dates for term papers or switched final-exam formats in anticipation of the walkout.

Metro bus drivers said they would not cross picket lines, prompting transportation planners to move bus stops to streets at the periphery of campus. There was uncertainty whether other unionized groups, including delivery-truck drivers and construction workers, would honor the picket lines, delaying projects such as the renovation of Suzzallo Library.

The agreement lasts until April 22, the end of the legislative session in Olympia.