As you know, UAW 4121, which represents Academic Student Employees (ASEs) at UW, is in the midst of contract negotiations with UW administration. The relationship between ASEs and faculty is multifaceted: since ASEs are UW employees, we are their colleagues, but since ASEs teach, grade, tutor, and research under our supervision, we are also their teachers and mentors. This raises questions about how we, as faculty, can fulfill our multiple responsibilities in a way that respects the rights and expectations of our colleagues, students, and the broader community that is invested in our state’s flagship public university. On behalf of our faculty union, UW Faculty Forward, we are writing to share our sense of how faculty might approach these questions.
We believe ASEs have the right to negotiate with the UW administration over the terms and conditions of their employment without undue interference. We believe ASEs have the right to seek decent wages and improved standards. We believe the ASEs’ demands raise important issues that should matter to all citizens of this state: health care that is inclusive of trans people and people with mental illnesses; wage increases that meaningfully offset skyrocketing housing prices in the Puget Sound region; equal pay for equal work; improved family leave; and better funding for childcare.
In our view, allowing the ASEs to negotiate without undue interference means that we do not take on the contracted work of ASEs by teaching their classes or doing their grading. To complete the work assignments of striking ASEs, even if it were feasible, would effectively place faculty squarely on one side in the labor dispute – the employer’s side. Faculty action should not be a determining factor in the negotiations between UAW 4121 and the UW administration.
The labor dispute poses dilemmas for many faculty, but we also believe the union and the administration have the ability to resolve this situation. Faculty have not created or contributed to this labor dispute, and therefore should not be expected to resolve it.
Last but not least, as teachers, scholars, researchers, we have the right to examine and share our ideas with each other. Moreover, nothing prevents faculty from communicating our views regarding the issues raised by the ASEs directly and privately to President Cauce or other UW administrators.