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Our commitment to a fair contract for ASEs

Our university’s mission to educate, to increase the world’s knowledge, and to serve the public good cannot be met without a deep commitment to developing human talent and to maintaining community and workplace standards guided by the principle of fairness.

As faculty members who have worked closely with teaching and research assistants, we are deeply grateful for their contributions to our university community. On a more personal level, we have experienced how their hard work, efforts and successes have been intimately tied with our own. Indeed, we began our own academic careers in and through these roles.

The UW is firmly committed to ensuring that teaching assistants, research assistants and all Academic Student Employees (ASEs) are fairly compensated for that work. That is why five years ago we made a commitment to the shared goal of raising the median wages of teaching and research assistants and other ASEs to be in alignment with their peers in the Global Challenge States and on par with the University of California system. Over the last five years, the base salary for ASEs was increased between 3 percent and 11.59 percent each year, for a compounded rate increase of 50.4 percent.  We are pleased to have reached that goal, despite continuing financial pressures, and we were optimistic going into negotiations. We are therefore especially disappointed that we have not been able to come to agreement with UAW Local 4121 on a new contract for ASEs. We will continue to bargain in good faith, but we believe our current offer is a fair one.

In our negotiations with ASEs, as with all our employees, we must consider fairness within the larger university and budgetary context. We firmly believe our final proposal addresses ASE concerns through a combination of pay and benefits. To be clear: our proposed contract provides another 2 percent increase every year for the next three years, in line with raises for other university employees. UW’s graduate teaching and research assistants now earn between $31 and $37 per hour, based on a 20-hour work week. In addition, they receive a waiver for their tuition.

Under our proposed contract, ASEs remain the only benefits-eligible employees at the UW who do not pay for their health insurance, in a more generous plan overall than those offered to other state employees. Faculty and staff participating in the PEBB state benefits plan share in the cost, paying approximately 15 percent for health insurance. The ASE insurance plan includes short-term comprehensive coverage for mental health care at Hall Health and unlimited access to 1,500 in-network mental health care providers.

In our negotiations on Monday, our proposal increased affordability for mental health care by offering to waive the $75 quarterly deductible for network mental health providers. We have also proposed to expand our current coverage for gender reassignment and trans-affirming procedures. This proposal would provide more comprehensive coverage than is available to any other PEBB eligible State employee.

The University had also previously agreed to fund two 50 percent ASE employees to partner with SafeCampus to develop and conduct a sexual harassment and prevention training program to address ASE-specific issues.

ASEs are unique in that they are both students and employees. Because they both vote for and benefit from student services, they pay some of the fees that undergraduates and other graduate students pay. We have waived operating fees, building fees and tech fees for ASEs, but as students, they currently pay fees that support the IMA, and a range of other related programs, including student publications, student government, child care, the ECC, the Q Center, the student parent resource center, and the campus sustainability fund. We believe ASEs should not be able to vote to enact or increase fees for services that they will use, while only other students will pay for them. We have agreed that the University administration will not increase or add additional fees on ASEs.

There is no doubt that ASEs play a crucial role in the life and success of our community. That is why we have prioritized their raises over the last five years and why we united to fight against attempts earlier this year to tax their tuition waivers. The research and teaching of the University meets the highest standards among public universities because of the essential work that graduate and professional students contribute, and we profoundly respect those contributions. But at the negotiating table and in all of our endeavors at the University, our commitment to fairness for all employees and students must be our guiding principle. We believe the proposal that we have placed on the table meets this standard.

We do realize that cost of living has been rising very rapidly in this region, affecting all members of our community, and we are working with city and county government on ways to create more affordable housing in the U-district and/or along the light rail corridor. Competitive compensation for all of our employees living in this dynamic — but increasingly expensive — region will continue to be a priority as we approach the legislature in this coming session.