In March UW teaching and research assistants voted 1,391 to 979 to authorize a union to represent them on the UW campus. In early April Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition/United Auto Workers began negotiating with the UW administration for its first contract.
Over the last four years, graduate student employees have tried to have their union recognized by the UW. Approximately 250 TAs and RAs participated in a strike for two weeks at the end of spring quarter in 2001, the first time these groups have ever struck the UW. The results of that job action were inconclusive and both sides claimed success.
The University initially opposed exclusive recognition of the union because state law did not permit these kinds of negotiations. In 2002 the lawmakers passed enabling legislation that both the union and the UW supported.
The March certification election grew out of this new legal environment. Out of approximately 4,500 eligible student appointees, 2,370about 52 percentsubmitted votes that were counted.
"We are thrilled with the outcome of the vote," says Kristen Intemann, a graduate student in philosophy and a member of the union's bargaining team. "It's been a long time and we're glad that negotiations are finally going to happen."
"We are negotiating a minimum of 20 agreements with nine different unions during the next six or seven months," says Patti Carson, vice president for human resources. "The University has expressed a very real desire to work differently and to develop dialogue with our unions."
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are more than 30 TA unions representing more than 40,000 graduate student employees in the U.S., almost double the number from a decade ago.