On Monday April 20th, a group of members visited the office of Dean David Eaton to deliver our response (see below) to the Deans’ letter from last week. Apparently Deans Eaton and Taylor forgot that many UAW 4121 members spend quite a lot of time grading written documents. We’re familiar with the problems of insufficient evidence, logical fallacies, and misguided estimations of one’s audience. So when we received the Deans’ letter, we couldn’t help but scribble a few comments in the margins–and assign their letter a failing grade.
The thinly veiled threats in the letter shocked and outraged members, mobilizing them to send a flood of angry responses to bargaining committee members. Subsequently, the union has created a Tumblr, “Responses to Letter from Dean Eaton” (http://uaw4121letterresponses.tumblr.com/) to aggregate and publicize these responses as well as the original letter from the University.
We’ve seen some outrageous developments in our contract negotiations.
UW Says: “Participating in demonstrations, rallies, or other expressive activities before or after work hours or during lunch or break periods is fully within your rights. However, it is important for you to know that, as a public employee, you do not have the right to strike under Washington State law.”
The Washington State Legislature has not expressly prohibited strikes of public employees under the statute that governs our collective bargaining. (The statute, RCW 41.56.120, does not grant a right to strike, but neither does it expressly prohibit strikes). Moreover, the University is conflating the decision to strike with the exercise of the right to vote to authorize the bargaining committee to recommend a strike if circumstances justify. In so doing they are engaged in classic intimidation tactics and unlawful interference in protected union activity.
UW Says: “In addition, the UW/UAW contract does not provide for a right to strike, and in fact prohibits the union from even authorizing such a work stoppage. While this contract expires on April 30, 2015, under Washington State law, the terms and conditions of a contract carry forward for up to a year from expiration while efforts are made to agree on a new contract.”
The Truth: While it is a well-established matter of law that certain terms and conditions specified in the contract – like wages, and benefits, including tuition waivers – are automatically extended for a year after the contract expires, we do not believe that the no strike clause remains in effect after the contract expires. If the University wishes, they can expend public resources on litigating this provision, like they spent public resources challenging an arbitrator’s decision in 2012 that determined they could not impose new fees. Or they can agree to a fair contract for ASEs.
The Truth: This threat by the University is calculated to dissuade us from taking action. It is true University could choose to make this decision. It is also true that choosing not to work could result in UW choosing not to pay (and union members become eligible for strike pay and health benefits after a strike lasting 8 days or longer). We are far from this point, and hope they will instead invest resources in agreeing to a fair contract.
UW Says: “As TAs, RAs, Graders and Tutors, you are often the first line of contact with UW students, and their success depends in many ways on you. Our students justifiably expect to complete their courses on time, with limited deviation from course syllabi—and they rely on the University to make sure this happens.”
The Truth: It took a strike vote to get UW Administrators to write to each of us acknowledging what a critical role we play in delivering their instructional and research missions. Now if they just pay us in a manner that reflects that role instead of idly threatening us we can get on with it. It’s outrageous for the University to imply that each and every one of us does not hold this same deep conviction. We have not yet decided to go on strike and such a decision, should it need to be made, will not be made lightly. But each and every contract demand – including the ones for competitive compensation – has been constructed with the good of the campus community in mind.
UW Says: “We encourage you to exercise your right to vote on this important issue. Should the vote of the Union members be in favor of sanctioning a strike, whether or not you choose to participate in a strike or work stoppage is a decision that is yours alone to make. ”
The Truth: We too encourage you to exercise your right to vote: your voice matters. Let the University know how you truly feel and don’t let yourself be intimated by this letter. The University is not living up to its highest ideals: to tell the truth, to prioritize fair and open expression, and to respect all of its students and workers.
If you weren’t convinced before to vote Yes in the strike authorization vote, these tactics should persuade you that further action is necessary to shift the University’s misplaced priorities.
UAW Local 4121 Bargaining Committee