WSU grad students win agreement just hours into strike

COUGARS DON’T MIND THE SNOW. Grad student strikers picketed at WSU main campus in Pullman, Washington Jan. 17. | Photo courtesy WSUCASE

By MALLORY GRUBEN

Within hours of walking out on strike Jan. 17, student workers at Washington State University-Vancouver — and at WSU campuses across the state — reached a tentative agreement for a first contract. If ratified, the agreement would raise wages 39%. 

WSU employs about 1,800 student workers, who in November 2022 formed the WSU Coalition of Academic Student Employees (WSU-CASE), an affiliate of United Auto Workers Local 4121. The union covers student workers at all of WSU’s Washington campuses, including the main campus in Pullman and the satellite campus in Vancouver. The majority of the workers in the unit are graduate employees who teach classes, grade assignments, and conduct research, all the while attending classes for their own masters or doctorate degrees. The union includes a small number of undergraduate workers, too.

WSU-CASE started negotiating a first contract in February 2023, and in November, members authorized a strike with 93% approval. The union and university continued negotiating but could not close the gap between their proposals for health care, paid leave, fee waivers, and wages. So WSU-CASE called for an open-ended strike starting Jan. 17, and student workers walked off the job first thing that morning to picket in the snow and ice. By 2 p.m. the union announced a tentative agreement and strikers returned to work. 

“Just the very beginning of our strike was enough to bring WSU admin back to the table with important movement on wages, fees, healthcare, and leaves,” the union wrote an in update to members. 

The agreement would set a minimum base wage of $2,318.50 per month for graduate employees in Pullman, up from $1,670 monthly before the union. Graduate employees who already make more than the base wage would receive a 5% pay boost within 90 days of ratification. It also would set an hourly minimum wage of $17.09 for undergraduate workers. Those minimums would be adjusted for the regional cost of living on campuses in more expensive cities, like Vancouver. 

Under the agreement, which would expire Aug. 15, 2026, all workers would receive a 3% pay increase on Oct. 1, 2025. 

The agreement also would: 

  • Waive tuition and the $189-per-semester building fee for graduate employees who work 20 hours per week. 
  • Lower the health insurance deductibles to $300, down from $500 in-network and $1,000 out-of-network. WSU-CASE retains the right to negotiate more improvements to the health care plan for the 2024-25  and 2025-26 school years. 
  • Provide six weeks of paid parental leave and a $2,025 per semester child care subsidy.
  • Create immigration support for international students, including a reimbursement for work-related visa fees. 
  • Provide 12 days of paid vacation for student workers with a nine-month appointment

WSU-CASE will launch an online ratification vote starting Jan. 19. The vote closes Jan. 25. 

WSUCASE strikers at the Mt. Vernon campus. | Photo courtesy WSUCASE

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