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, UW Associate Vice President for university relations Norm Arkins said.

"In the wee hours of the morning an agreement was reached and the strike was averted. That’s good news," Arkins said today. "We’re very glad we were able to come to some resolution on this."

The two sides agreed to lobby the Legislature to authorize collective bargaining rights for the union, Arkins said. In the meantime school officials have agreed to recognize the union as the representative for teaching assistants "who’ve said they wanted GSEAC/UAW to be their representative," Arkins said.

The university still won’t collectively bargain with the union until legislation is passed but will talk with union leaders about issues they want to discuss.

"We are genuine about our desire to sit down and talk to them about issues of mutual concern," Arkins said.

Melissa Meade, a union spokeswoman, called the agreement a "win-win situation."

"We’re thrilled," Meade said. "The strike has been recessed. We now have the right to meet and confer."

Meade also said she was confident they would be able to get the legislation needed for official recognition passed.

UW President Richard 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.

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.

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.

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