On strike at Evergreen State

Brian Huseby reports on a strike by student support workers at Evergreen State College.

Evergreen State College student support workers on the picket lineEvergreen State College student support workers on the picket line

STUDENT SUPPORT workers at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., have been on strike since May 28. The workers are members of the Washington Federation of State Employees, an AFSCME affiliate, and consist of counselors, advisers, residence directors and others. They have been at the bargaining table for 16 months, attempting to establish their first contract with the college.

In May, the student support workers voted by a 90 percent margin to take action, including strike action. Following seven days of unsuccessful mediation, workers then went on strike on May 28.

Primary among the employees' demands are just cause protections that would establish basic rights over discipline and termination. The college administration wants to leave review of discipline and termination actions in the jurisdiction of college managers. The employee bargaining team is demanding independent review of those actions.

The workers are also bargaining for a just compensation package. They presently don't receive step (length of service) increases as do all other unionized higher education and other state workers. Without step increases, workers' wages remain at 1992 levels.

What you can do

Call the office of college President Les Purce at 360-867-6100 and ask that the administration meet the demands of the striking workers.

Finally, the 4 percent wage increase over two years that the administration is offering doesn't match the 7.5 percent increase for the same period given to faculty members.

This is the first strike of state workers since a statewide rolling strike was held in 2001. On the first day of the strike, 300 workers, faculty members, students and other supporters set up picket lines throughout the campus, shutting down the college for the day.

Among the strongest supporters were faculty members. Some moved their classes to the state labor council offices several miles away. Others joined the picket lines on campus. "The staff are really important to our work" said Laurie Meeker, chairperson of the United Faculty of Evergreen. Referring to the just cause issues, Meeker stated, "It's a basic workers' right that we think our colleagues should also have."

Students also strongly supported the strike. On the picket line, Dana Joud a member of MEChA, a Chicano student organization, pointed out the value of student support workers. "They support our student organizations, so of course we want to support them. They deserve to get their basic needs met," she said.

Evergreen students, faculty members and other workers have long supported many labor and other social justice issues. They feel that the administration should do the same and provide student support staff with a fair contract.