Strike by university teaching assistants averted

Associated Press

SEATTLE — A strike by University of Washington graduate teaching assistants was averted early today, officials for the school and the graduate students’ union said.

Members of the Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition, affiliated with the United Auto Workers, got picketing assignments Sunday in preparation for a walkout the next morning.

Early today, however, an agreement was reached to prevent a walkout, UW President Richard McCormick told KIRO radio.

"We’re pleased that the talks between the university and the union … have resulted in an agreement that will prevent a strike," McCormick said.

He said the two sides agreed to lobby the Legislature to authorize collective bargaining rights for the coalition and that in the meantime school officials would grant "a measure of non-exclusive recognition."

School officials will confer with union leaders "but not engage in collective bargaining," McCormick added.

Melissa Meade, a union spokeswoman, told The Associated Press that "the strike is recessed today; we will not be going on strike," but did not have further details.

McCormick wrote in an e-mail to all faculty and students last Friday that school officials were willing to work with the union but first must have "a legal framework" approved by the state Legislature.

"This is not a unique posture. We have exactly this kind of legal framework for each of the 33 bargaining units, organized by nine unions, with which we work quite successfully," McCormick wrote Friday.

Union leaders maintained that the administration did not need legislative action, adding that any such measure would be unlikely to win approval in Olympia because the Legislature is so closely divided — a 49-49 tie in the House and a 25-24 Democratic advantage in the Senate.

Earlier this year 80 percent of the school’s 1,650 teaching assistants and tutors signed union cards, which were then filed with the state Public Employment Relations Commission. About 1,000 members of the union voted to go on strike last week.

McCormick then offered the union formal recognition but no negotiations.

The union will make wage and benefit demands after school officials grant recognition, Meade said.

Students feared a strike could disrupt grading of final examinations for the fall quarter. Teaching assistants help professors evaluate coursework, and many teach classes independently. A strike could delay the posting of final grades, and some professors have indicated they will not mark exams or issue grades during a strike.

University officials told students and parents they had plans to address disruptions in grading, but many students remained concerned.

Members of some other unions, including transit bus drivers, said they would not cross picket lines.

University Police Capt. Randy Stegmeier said he met representatives of the union and discussed ground rules for a strike.

According to the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions, graduate student unions are officially recognized as collective bargaining agents in the State University of New York system, the University of California system, 14 other state universities and the City University of New York.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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