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UW Student-Worker Strike Still Looms

May 7, 2010

JUSTIN VORHEES

Although the TA contract negotiations have been extended, political unrest is still rife throughout the University of Washington.  Many students could frankly care less, but the balancing of the budget will affect every member of the UW community.

Student-Worker Panel

Students, workers and community members representing various organizations gather to discuss alternatives to the budget balancing crisis. Photo by Justin Vorhees

From the March 4th demonstration 2 months ago to the May 3rd picket at 15th and 40th, the student worker coalition has been actively and noisily making their demands.

In a quieter context, a diverse panel discussed possible alternatives for the balancing of the budget .

Salvador Castillo is a campus worker, member of WFSE 1488 and of the International Workers and Students for Justice.  “I join with students, with everybody because we have similar problems,” he said at a planning meeting on April 29th.  ” That’s how we become more powerful.”  Castillo   the number of janitors has been reduced from 350 – 250 in recent years.

Paula Lukaszek, a plumber employed by the university, has similar concerns as Castillo, her colleague and fellow member of WFSE 1488.  “Stuff that used to get done isn’t getting done,” Lukaszek explains.  She used to do preventative maintenance but now works strictly on emergency calls.

Addressing student concerns, she acknowledges the tuition increases and academic cuts and asks, “Where should all your tuition go?”  According to Lukaszek, one of the directors on staff at the UW recently hired two assistants.  There are more managers watching fewer workers, she concludes.

Russell Monteiro, an undergraduate at the UW, talked about his life before college.  His mother is a Mexican immigrant and his father is an Indian immigrant.  He grew up in a low-income area.  Monteiro said he did well in school, though few others did in the mainly Hispanic school.  Monteiro fights so others have a chance to get out of low-income areas.

Representing the teaching assistants and researching assistants (TAs and RAs, respectively) was Jennifer Fletcher.  She argued that TAs and RAs are an integral part of the University of Washington.  TAs are inexpensive and do a great deal of the teaching, and RAs do a majority of the research, bringing in grant money — half of which goes to the UW.

Fletcher is a member of For A Democratic University (FADU) and UAW 4121, the union that may strike when the extended contract negotiations end on May 12th.

Finally, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) had a presence at the panel discussion.  Amy Smith, ISO member and undergraduate student, described a long history of how socialist ideas have led to improvements like child labor laws and the 40-hour work week.

“We need to stand up and demand our rights,” said Smith.

Steve Leigh, a campus worker and member of SEIU 925 and ISO, said that there have been over 800 staff cuts in recent years, mainly secretaries and office workers, but no high-level administration pay-cuts.  Leigh stated  that inflation doesn’t wait for pay-increases.  “Either we fight back, or we’re gonna be nickeled and dimed to death,” Leigh concluded.

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