Talking to Your Students About the Contract Campaign
Background for TAs and Tutors
You are in a good position to talk to your students about the strike: more than anyone else at the university, your students know that you do work—you teach them and you grade their assignments and exams, and you are often more accessible and helpful to them than faculty members are.
Students may not, however, understand that this work is also your job—that you get paid, and that you live on your salary and expect fair compensation for good work. A big part of this conversation is helping students to see teaching them as your job and to see their learning conditions as your working conditions.
It is in our students’ interests for us to have a union. Instructors who have job security and fair pay can do better work as teachers. And if any of your undergrads are considering pursuing graduate education, we hope this will allow them to participate in collective bargaining.
Our union’s campaign and the May 15th strike enjoyed broad support from many student groups, including the ASUW Student Senate and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, which recently passed resolutions in strong support of our demands. Click here to read a statement the Daily Editorial Board.
Why are grad workers fighting for a better contract?
Academic Student Employees (ASEs) do a huge amount of work at UW. We are teaching assistants for lecture classes across all departments, we are the majority of workers in labs, and we are the lead instructors for hundreds of students. Teaching and research are our jobs—they’re how we make a living.
Your learning conditions are our working conditions, and unfortunately, sometimes those working conditions are not very good. Graduate students often deal with issues like harassment and discrimination, inadequate healthcare, rents that rise faster than our salaries, poor support for ASEs with children and their families, and burdensome fees that eat up a significant chunk of our salaries.
We want stipends and benefits that allow us to live in Seattle without worrying how we will make the next month’s rent, so we can put our time and energy into high quality teaching work!
This union represents a sustained, strong majority of grad workers from across UW’s departments and campuses. In April, ASEs voted to authorize a strike by a margin of 2528 to 102, 96.1%! In the first week of May, ASEs voted to reject the Administration’s unfair offer, 2272 to 196. During the May 15 strike, more than 2000 ASEs joined the picket lines on all three campuses.
What should students expect from a potential strike?
During the strike, we will stop working to demonstrate how valuable we are to our workplace. This means that TAs and tutors will not teach classes or discussion sections, will not hold office hours, or reply to student emails.
Although we may stop working, UW is still responsible for making sure that you receive the education you have paid for and that you graduate on schedule. The UW administration will probably express their point of view on a strike loudly and repeatedly—so you may get emails that say that graduate students are not workers, or that we do not care about our students. This is not true. We care a lot about teaching, and we think you’ll have better classes when your instructors are compensated in ways that are commensurate with the value of our work and with the tuition rates you pay.
What can students do to help?
Call President Cauce’s office at (206-543-5010) to tell her that you want the UW Administration to give ASE’s a fair contract now!
Join us on the picket line during the days of the strike. The pickets will be at every entrance and exit to campus from 5 AM to 4 PM.
Pedagogical strategies and more information
As an instructor, you can choose to personalize this talk to your subject matter. For example, University Writing instructors might want to teach op-eds about the union written by grad students and undergrads.
You can also devote more time from class before the strike to doing a “teach-in” about why unions are critically important to fighting for the rights of all working people. You can find a lesson plan for a teach in by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Answers to frequently asked questions are available here.