The scenes of a strike range from picket signs and marches to angry flyers and indignant faces, but what remains common in each situation is a desire to be heard. Many may believe that taking a stance for what you believe in and fighting for what you deserve should be a right, but others might not think the same.
Thousands of graduate students employed at the University of Washington were recently warned by the university’s officials that going on strike is against the law, according to a Seattle Times article. A letter from the UW administration was sent out a few weeks ago to ensure that the student employees were aware of this detail. This letter comes in the middle of negotiations between about 4,000 graduate students and UW on a new contract regarding their work for the university.
Although the union claims Washington Legislature has not explicitly prohibited strikes by public employees, there is no universal agreement with that interpretation. The UW administration cautions students that state law and their contract still does not grant them the rights to strike.
Even if state law does not contain any specific punishments to penalize public employees on strike, the state attorney general ruled in 2006 that they still do not have any legal protection to do so.
Outraged and indignant students viewed the message as an attempt at intimidation and seem to be undeterred toward pursuing the call for a strike if the negotations fail.
The student employees’ work contract technically expires by April 30, but following Washington law, the terms and conditions will still extend for about a year.
Many of the graduate students who work at the UW are represented by UAW 4121, the International Union, and several other unions.
Despite previous debate on whether the university needs to abide by city laws since it is a state entity, the UW has agreed to raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour for student workers earlier this month.
Seattle University had put this law into effect on April 1. The continuous pay raises will increase to $13 and $15 per hour at the very beginning of 2016 and 2017, respectively, according to a campuswide email sent April 13.
According to the email, Jeff Scofield, director of Student Financial Services, will provide a more detailed account of student employment information by the end of May to both employees and supervisors regarding the upcoming academic year.
“Student employment at SU always seems to be improving to me,” said junior Jason Berroya. “Minimum wage levels used to be way too low in my opinion. We work too hard to be paid any less.”
In the event that Seattle U students felt the need to go on strike, and not just in issues regarding employment contracts, they would still have to abide by federal and state labor laws.
“I would like to think that the administration takes cares of us here, but I am not entirely sure how they would respond if we wanted more change,” said sophomore Katie Sheridan. “I’m just glad we haven’t felt the need to.”
In addition to employment, rising tuition costs are also a concern for Seattle U students.
“I think students are concerned about the tuition increases and finding ways to pay for it,” said At-Large Representative Owen Goetze.
According to Goetze, student employment through Bon Appétit and the school are easy ways to help with funding for tuition, and with the proposed wage increases to comply with the new minimum wage, these positions will probably be more attractive.
Going on a strike appears to be in the running as the last resort for the Seattle U community, considering we utilize several other different avenues to bring awareness to our concerns.
“Students can also create a petition at any time if there’s a cause they care about enough,” said Sophomore Representative Palmyra Jackson. “There are not really any restrictions when it comes to that kind of request.”
Students at UW were not intimidated by the university’s attempt at deterring them, and on April 22 the majority of graduate students voted to strike. Whether or not a strike occurs depends on whether negotiations can be met after the contract expiration.