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Western Washington non-academic workers to be first in state to unionize

Operational student employees filed to join the Western Academic Workers United union, citing low and late pay, as well as unsafe working conditions.
Credit: WWU OSE
Operational student employees marched to the Office of the President to request recognition for their union.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — On Wednesday, 1,100 operational student employees at Western Washington University filed to form a union at the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), becoming the first non-academic student workers to be unionized in the state. 

These student workers include resident advisors, clerks, publication editors, and program support staff, among others. They are forming the Western Academic Workers United-UAW (WAWU-UAW) due to alleged unsafe working conditions, unfair and late wages and unpredictable schedules, according to the group. 

“Many of the jobs Operational Student Employees do are behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. Western works because we do," student fitness trainer Abbi Matthews said in a statement. "All workers deserve to be paid fairly and on time, and trained appropriately so they don’t get hurt on the job. In turn, better working conditions will allow us to focus on our work which sustains us in the higher education pipeline."

The WWU administration has not recognized the union, and the group delivered a letter requesting the recognition on Wednesday. 

KING 5 has reached out to Western Washington University leadership for a statement but they declined to comment. 

“We are really excited to have collected so much support for our union in just a few months. It’s a testament to how urgent the need for our union is, "said Kaylee Thomas, a student employee in the University Advancement Office. "We hope Western won’t put up any delays so that we can get to bargaining and address the issues we face like low pay and a lack of safety measures and training" 

Last year, 1,100 educational student employees filed to form a union. They are currently in the bargaining stages for their first contract. These workers include teaching and research assistants, as well as tutors. Their initial bargaining demands include matching pay with rising cost of living in Bellingham, providing workers with an affordable healthcare insurance plan, and expanding campus childcare access. 

Both educational and operational student employees have been collaborating at WWU to unionize jointly. 

“They are part of a movement of academic workers who are coming together to secure a seat at the bargaining table to improve their working conditions, and their UAW siblings are ready to support their effort,” Mike Miller, director of UAW Region 6, said in a statement. 

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