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WWU academic student employees unionize

805 students, 98%, vote yes

Academic Student Employees stand on the stairs of Old Main at Western Washington University in December 2022. The group of undergraduate and graduate student employees formed a union June 12.
Academic Student Employees stand on the stairs of Old Main at Western Washington University in December 2022. The group of undergraduate and graduate student employees formed a union June 12.
By Hailey Hoffman Visual Journalist

Less than six months after going public with their intent to unionize, the Academic Student Employees (ASEs) of Western Washington University formed a union June 12 with a 98% margin — 805 people voting yes and just 19 voting no.

“The turnout for this vote was huge, and so was the ‘yes’ margin,” Lily Rayor, an undergraduate teaching assistant in biology and a member of the organizing committee, said in a news release. “Even though the election was scheduled during finals, we saw voter turnout over 75 percent. There’s a buzz on campus — everyone here knows that having a union is long, long overdue.”

ASEs are graduate and undergraduate students who fill teaching and research positions as teaching assistants, tutors and researchers. 

The union — Western Academic Workers United (WAWU) — is waiting on certification from the Washington State Public Employment Relations Committee, then it will bargain with the university over issues such as pay, leave and “reasonable scheduling.”

“My co-workers and I have to work multiple jobs off campus after class, between teaching and on weekends. We know this makes it harder for people to stay enrolled and graduate on time,” said Karna Ringham, a graduate teaching assistant in kinesiology. “We’re looking forward to the administration working with us to make Western a better place to work so we can improve the quality of education for everyone here.”

In April, WAWU was part of the effort to codify a right to collective bargaining through a bill in the state Legislature. Senate Bill 5238 passed, allowing regional institutions like Western, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and The Evergreen State College to bargain. 

WAWU is also seeking authorization cards to recognize the 1,500 operational student employees who fill maintenance and clerical roles on campus. This would create the largest majority-undergraduate union in the U.S. 

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