Student-services workers at The Evergreen State College voted 45-5 Wednesday to authorize actions “up to and including a strike” as they continue negotiating with college leaders on a two-year labor contract.
The workers are represented by the Washington Federation of State Employees. Their overwhelming vote does not mean a strike will happen, but it could offer leverage when they go into another session of contract talks Tuesday with the administration.
Top issues are pay and what both sides describe as a “just cause” process for handling disciplinary issues and firings at the four-year school. The 55 affected workers include academic counselors, academic advisers, dorm residence directors, athletic coaches, mental health advisers and career development staff.
“It’s a first-time contract with a group of exempt student services employees. First-time contracts take a long time. We still have some distance to go, but we are working hard to wrap this up as soon as we can,” college spokesman Todd Sprague said Wednesday as the voting was still underway by the members of WFSE Local 443.
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Talks have been going on for about 16 months. Although pay is an issue, and workers want more than the college is offering, many of the workers are frustrated they are unable to get some of the same language governing disciplinary actions that other unions have at Evergreen, said Courtney Bailey, a union bargaining team member.
Bailey said they plan to form a strike committee that can decide whether workers walk off the job next week. “It really kind of depends on how things go on Tuesday and whether we make progress with the college,” Bailey said. “I think people are frustrated with the length of the bargaining process and being denied basic rights that other unions on the campus have.’’
Tim Welch, spokesman for the state federation, said the strike vote was the first for state employee groups since enactment of the Personnel Reform Act of 2002, which gave state workers the right to bargain collectively for wages. He said the Evergreen unit gained the right to unionize as a result of 2007 legislation that expanded collective bargaining rights in higher education.