Researchers, 2,400-strong, strike University of Washington


Researchers, scientists and engineers (RSEs) and postdoctoral student workers, part of a burgeoning national movement of campus workers, struck the University of Washington June 7. They belong to United Auto Workers Local 4121, with 6,000 members and growing, and they demand decent pay along with other contract improvements.

The union is striking on the Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell campuses. The workers are holding marches and rallies every day and mass picketing at several of the university’s main entrances from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

WW Photo: Jim McMahan

UAW unionists held a celebratory demonstration June 10 to congratulate students outside their graduation at the Seattle football stadium. They convinced U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to refrain from crossing the picket line. He canceled his commencement address, citing the Local 4121 strike.

The university’s management has stalled in negotiations for almost the whole past year. The researchers began the strike now because final tests are held in the first week of June. Since they have many teaching assistants as allies in their union, their test-grading work can be a pressure point with the university. “Upset your grades aren’t out yet?” reads a leaflet distributed to students. “Not your TA’s fault. U of W is breaking the law and isn’t negotiating new contracts.” 

Many students are union workers, and there are several other allied union locals on the 47,000 student campus. UW has more workers than the Seattle city government.

The union’s pay demands are urgent. UW is not paying the minimum wage for salaried workers, picket leader Mickey Cassar told Workers World. Seattle rents have increased 92% since 2010, according to a study by the financial tech company Self. Workers are also demanding increased support for child care, with “market rate” child care costs extremely high.

The strike is grinding research to a halt, according to organizers. The 2,400 RSEs and postdocs perform a wide range of critical research, from developing new theories to fight disease to designing policy to fight climate change. A union organizer stated they were involved in developing tests for COVID-19.

The young strikers are up against a ruling-class university, one of the largest receivers of federal research dollars among public universities. UW President Ana Mari Cauce makes $842,000 in salary annually and lives in a state-provided mansion. The top 10 UW administrators make a total of $12 million a year.

Highly rated universities like UW use, to various capitalists’ advantage, the inventions of their researchers and sell the fruits of their labor for peanuts to huge profit-making corporations. Student workers are being superexploited, something the UAW strikers are well aware of. 

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