Victory for Evergreen strikers

Student support workers ended a strike with their first contract, writes Brian Huseby.

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., overwhelmingly ratified their first-ever union contract on June 12.

The student support workers--members of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME--include counselors, advisers, residence directors and others. For the past 17 months, the union bargaining team has been engaged in non-productive negotiations with the college. In May, local members voted by 90 percent to authorize stronger action, including a strike.

When seven days of mediation produced no results, workers went on strike and shut down the campus on May 28. This was the first Washington state employee strike since a rolling strike was held in 2001.

The strike produced the results the workers were seeking, and they ratified the contract offer 52 to 2. The agreement takes effect July 1 and runs through June 30, 2015.

The main issue among the workers' demands was "just cause" protection against disciplinary and termination actions. While the college maintained that such actions could only remain in the jurisdiction of college managers, the union demanded independent review rights. The contract now provides a three-step grievance process leading to binding arbitration through a neutral third party, the American Arbitration Association.

A compensation package is also included in the contract. All workers will receive an across-the-board wage increase of 3 percent for 2013 and 1 percent for 2014. Workers will also get a one-time bonus equal to 1 percent of annual salary. More important, the contract provides step (length of service) increases for the first time, matching other state workers in that entitlement. Without the step increases, Evergreen workers' wages averaged out at 1992 levels.

This favorable contract shows once again that strike action can still win even in today's economy.