FAQs about ASE Pledge to RSE/PD Respect Picket Lines


What is a picket line?

A picket line is a public expression by striking workers of their dispute, which conveys a request for other workers and community members to join them in solidarity and not to undercut their decision to withhold labor. As Academic Student Employees (ASEs), we can increase the impact of a strike by pledging not to cross the line and by not engaging in any activities that weaken the workers’ decision to withhold their labor. 

What does it mean to pledge to not cross the picket line if RSEs and Postdocs go on strike?

Respecting a picket line can look like many different things, depending on the nature of our work, and the organization of our labs or work areas. ASEs are making individual decisions about how best to do this but are discussing collectively the best strategies. The guiding principle of ‘respecting the picket line” is to take actions that when operationalized collectively at scale, maximize the disruptive potential of a strike.

ASEs who have pledged to honor the picket line are individually choosing to not come into the lab; not hold class or office hours; make arrangements to be on the picket line, etc. ASEs are also asking PIs and Department Chairs to put pressure on Admin to move on critical issues for both units. Every individual has to make their own decision about what it means not to cross a picket line, but like any decision made in response to mistreatment or injustice, is strongest when it is visible and creates more power for the striking workers. Think about an action that you can take in your work area that can be both meaningful and disruptive – discuss options and make a plan with other ASE’s in your lab: the more people that participate, the better.  

Are Postdocs & Research Scientists/Engineers A-4 going on strike?

Both Postdoc & Research Scientists and Engineers A-4 have authorized strikes if necessary through successful Strike Authorization Votes in both units. The bargaining committees would recommend striking if they believed it to be the only way to achieve a fair deal, and the membership of both units would collectively determine where and when the strikes will take place. So far, no specific strikes have been called for and/or determined by the membership of Postdocs & Research Scientists/Engineers A-4.

What could a strike look like?

A strike is a complete work stoppage. During a strike, Postdocs and Research Scientists/Engineers would not perform work duties and instead would participate in picket lines to increase the visibility of the strike. Strikes can be fixed duration, intermittent or open-ended. The RSEs and Postdocs will decide and communicate from each unit to its members how a strike could create conditions for maximum participation and maximum impact. We would of course prefer that UW change course, bargain in good faith and promptly reach an agreement that addresses the needs of Postdocs and RSEs.

How do ASEs pledging to respect picket lines make a strike more effective?

Striking is a powerful collective action built on mass participation, engagement, and solidarity. The prospect of visible mass participation on picket lines with workers and community members will create a crisis for UW. ASE’s have enormous leverage with the administration, particularly in their teaching and grading roles.  As ASEs, we can play a powerful role by pledging not to cross a picket line. We can demonstrate that RSEs and Postdocs are not alone, and that we will not let management get away with engaging in unlawful activities. We will be bargaining our own contract in less than a year, and if they get away with it now they’ll undoubtedly try it again.  

Will the University care if RSEs and Postdocs go on strike?

Yes. Postdocs and RSEs perform critical work every day. Additionally, a successful strike would be highly visible in tangibly showing the solidarity of thousands of RSEs and Postdocs, bolstered by concrete solidarity from ASEs not crossing the picket line. The combination of stopping research, the media coverage, and the political pressure generated by a strike would absolutely impact the UW.

Why are we holding this pledge now?

Unfortunately, the administration’s failure to bargain in good faith has made a strike increasingly likely. RSEs filed their petition for certification in December 2021, and a year-and-a-half later, they are still fighting to reach a fair and equitable first agreement that includes a living wage. Postdocs have been bargaining their second contract since October of 2022, and negotiations have slowed considerably, with UW changing their interpretation of WA overtime law, inaccurately claiming that Postdocs are not covered. The State Labor & Industries department has now issued a memo stating that the University administration is wrong in their legal position, and noting that the Washington Minimum Wage Act does apply to Postdocs.  A work stoppage would be disruptive, not without personal challenge, and could delay the scientific work we are passionate about. But striking is also the strongest tool we have to secure a fair contract, and we are preparing now so that if it is absolutely necessary, we are ready.

Can I get in trouble if I respect the picket line?

The statute governing ASE collective bargaining neither prohibits work stoppages by public employees nor grants the express right to strike or respect a picket line. Many public sector unions in Washington—including our own—can and do hold strike authorization votes, go on strike and respect picket lines. Many teacher strikes have happened in Washington State. At UW: in 2001, a huge majority of UW Academic Student Employees (ASEs) struck without getting fined or disciplined and without the union being sued. In 2018 the same was true with another ASE one-day strike, and in 2022 UW Librarians participated in a one day strike. As with all other union action, our solidarity and willingness to be public is our best protection. The law doesn’t specifically prevent our employer from taking disciplinary action against those who engage in this action, up to and including termination. But at other strikes at UW (see above) this did not happen because participation was so strong. Collectively we would push the employer to apply a “just cause” standard and demand that any disciplinary action taken was appropriate and applied equally to every member of the bargaining unit. In other words: they’d have to take on all of us in order to take on one of us.

Are other UW employees allowed to do my work while I respect the picket lines?

No. UW employees outside of the ASE bargaining unit (BU) may not do your work while you’re respecting the picket line.  If you hear about non-BU employees performing your work, then please let us know.

Do I need to tell my supervisor or PI that I will be respecting the picket line?

No, but you may individually choose to tell them if they ask, or if you are asking your PI or chair to put pressure on Admin.

Am I allowed to respect the picket line if I am an international or undocumented student or scholar?

International and undocumented workers can participate in union activities, just as domestic workers do. If you want to be connected to a community of non-citizen workers, reach out to the International Solidarity Working Group at inl-workgroup@uaw4121.org.  

I have more questions – who can I talk to?

Reach out to the ASE Organizing Committee (ase-organizing@uaw4121.org) or your department steward!