Today our union met with representatives from the UW Administration to begin negotiations for the new contract. We had excellent turnout with over 40 Academic Student Employees (ASEs) from a wide variety of departments together, sharing stories about the struggles we face as student workers and the goals we have for improving our experience at the university.
We covered the 7 main demands we have for the new contract, each shared by elected members of the union Bargaining Committee, and by many other student employees who spoke from personal experience about why these demands are so important.
Improve ASE compensation and standards of living. Students from Physics, English and Civil & Environmental engineering discussed the rising costs of living and rent in Seattle and their effects on student standard of living. One student from English bravely shared her personal story dealing with a predatory landlord, and how the university cooperating on our demands could have prevented the situation.
Increase inclusivity, accessibility and equity. Students from Pharmacology and Human Centered Design & Engineering discussed the major issue of known sexual harassers being allowed to keep positions in the university for decades, as well as long-standing accessibility and equity issues on campus. A student of color from Anthropology discussed a racial inequity grievance that the university has been delaying dealing with for nearly two years. A female student from Physics discussed a recent issue regarding department backlash against female students who were organizing for more equity in the department.
Improve family-friendly benefits. While our current contract has several benefits for new parents who are ASEs, we discussed several ways we can improve. A student from Biochemistry shared her experience with having a child last Spring and finding out that UW does not offer any paid parental leave. A student from Anthropology had been scheduled to discuss the difficulties of being both a parent and a researcher, but had to cancel because her child is sick! A student from Pathology discussed recently losing two family members, and the difficulty of the extremely minimal 3-day paid bereavement leave for ASEs.
Improve academic quality. A student from Astronomy discussed the simple math that rising enrollment and falling TA positions leads to more students per TA, and thus more work grading and educating, with decreasing attention for each student. A student from Aerospace Engineering discussed how some students have been moved into workspaces that were deemed hazardous by the fire marshall! Also, as department research focuses change, some students are left behind and need assistance finding new types of research to pursue for their degree.
Improve security of ASE positions. A student from Anthropology discussed the decreasing number of TA positions in many departments. We are pushing to guarantee funding for students based on average time to degree instead of the arbitrary guarantees that vary across departments. We also discussed new fees the university will levy on international students, in violation of our current contract, and we presented a formal grievance to begin our fight against this discriminatory new fee.
Improve ASE healthcare. Under our current contract, we have arguably some of the best health care coverage of any university. Nonetheless, there are several shortcomings in our plan, especially for dental plans, and certain types of students do not receive full benefits. A student from Communications presented specific details on these shortcomings and what the university can do to improve our healthcare. A major talking point, which we will continually return to during negotiations, are the many students who temporarily lost benefits due to the Workday fiasco. Several students discussed the flaws of our dental plans.
Expand union orientations for ASEs. Every year, dozens of volunteers from our union give presentations to new cohorts of students to ensure all students know their rights as a worker at the UW. Unfortunately, whether accidentally or intentionally, hundreds of new student workers are denied access to these presentations by their departments. A student from Drama gave an impassioned speech on why student workers must know their rights and what to do when they encounter problems in the workplace. She presented our demands to guarantee that every new student worker gets access to a union representative. We are also demanding funding to do expanded training for our orientation volunteers, so they can best disseminate this information to new student workers.