We set a Strike Deadline for TUESDAY, MAY 21st at 5am

If WWU Admin don’t come to the table with fair proposals before then, ESEs won’t go to work.

Why are we going on strike now?

ESEs have been hard at work trying to reach a fair agreement with WWU Administrators since the start September 2023. We have bargained in good faith with the University and have made well-researched, evidence-based proposals based on the priorities expressed by hundreds of ESEs throughout the bargaining unit, including: 

  • livable, competitive compensation
  • tuition and fee waivers
  • stronger ADEI resolution procedures, and 
  • job security.

While we have made some good progress, there are issues on the table that WWU Admin are not prepared to make any movement towards us on (see the full-text and status of each of our contract proposals and Tentative Agreements here). 

Namely, WWU is not agreeing to our proposals that would make affording learning, working, and living in Bellingham more possible. Our wages proposal would provide ESEs with livable, competitive wages based on the reality of what is necessary to afford living in Bellingham and rates that our peers at universities along the I-5 corridor receive.  We are also adamant about partial tuition assistance for hourly student employees who make up a majority of our bargaining unit. Securing these proposals in our first contract will ensure that getting a higher education degree through Western is more accessible and inclusive.  It is possible for Western to recognize and meet our demands – which provide a clear solution to accomplishing WWU’s mission of advancing inclusive success – and to meet the challenge of the systematic underfunding of higher education together. However, Western’s counter proposal for wages has made no movement towards us – offering the legal bare minimum wage for hourly ESEs and almost $1000 less per month than our regional peers for TAs and RAs. WWU Admin are also refusing to even discuss tuition assistance for hourly workers, even as a concept.

Western Administrators have made it clear that they are not going to be persuaded to match these standards in higher education student employment by the clear logic and well reasoned arguments of the WAWU Bargaining Committee alone. A strong majority of ESEs voting YES! helped send a powerful message to Western that we are united and prepared to go on strike to win our demands if Admin doesn’t make significant movement towards us. We have shown Admin that we know what we need to be able to continue to access higher education at Western. We hope that WWU Administrators understand that they need to do better and work quickly to reach a fair agreement with ESEs. However, we are now prepared to exercise our legal right to strike on Tuesday, May 21st, if they fail to engage in good faith at our next bargaining session. We are holding them accountable, and there will be consequences if they refuse to acknowledge our current reality. 

What will our strike look like?

A strike is a complete work stoppage. During a strike, ESEs would not perform any of our work duties (teaching, research, and all related duties), but instead participate in picket lines or other strike activities in and around our campus to increase the visibility of the strike. Our goal is that anyone coming to campus knows immediately that Educational Student Employees are on strike.

The success and effectiveness of our strike depends on each and every one of us showing up to the picket line, making our presence known and fully disrupting campus operations starting on Tuesday and continuing until Western comes to a contract agreement with us.  In order for us to have a full day with a disruptive picket line, we all need to spend an average of 4 hours picketing for every day we are on strike – regardless of how many hours you work in your ESE job. Being on the picket line for an average of 4 hours each day is also what will qualify you for strike pay from our national united auto workers strike fund – if WWU withholds our wages. We’ll be picketing around the edges of campus (locations TBD) starting at 5:00 AM – 5:00 PM, so there will be ample time for every ESE to get 4 hours of picketing in each day.

Sign up ASAP for strike picket shifts and Stay tuned for more concrete details of our strike picket location, which will be shared through union organization channels if the conditions before Tuesday, May 21st

How long will our strike last?

Unless WWU Admin come to the bargaining table with fair proposals beforehand, our strike will start on the morning of Tuesday, May 21st. Our strike will end when Western and our Bargaining Committee come to a final agreement on the remaining active contract proposals. Decisions about when to end the strike will be based on many ongoing factors, as discussed with bargaining committee and strike captains for the duration of the strike. 

Our strike will be the most effective (i.e. shorter) with full picket participation from all 1100 ESEs and other members of the WWU community starting immediately on the morning of Tuesday, May 21st. With our numbers, every ESE needs to be participating in strike activities for at least 4 hours every day that we are on strike. Sign up for a strike picket shift now.

If we go on strike, will I be paid?

WWU can refuse to pay us for the work we don’t do if we go on strike. Our national United Auto Workers (UAW) strike fund exists because of the hundreds of thousands of workers across the UAW who contribute membership dues, allowing all of us to have this collective resource that enables us to exercise our power if Western does withhold our pay. In the event of a strike, ESEs who complete at least 20 hours of strike duties will receive $500 a week. This is averaged out to 4 hours for every day that we are on strike. 

For more details about strike pay, please email

How can I access strike pay and benefits?

As workers represented by UAW, we have access to UAW’s Strike and Defense Fund after losing pay for participating in a sanctioned strike. Strike benefits are $500 per week in strike pay, along with medical benefits in the event that WWU withholds healthcare. Any ESE who participates in strike activities will receive strike pay. There are resources for exceptional circumstances, and we can also establish a hardship fund that can provide further assistance to workers who experience emergency financial hardship due to lost pay. Strike Captains will be giving out information about how to sign up for Strike assistance on the first day of our strike. 

Is it legal for us to go on strike?

In Washington state, strikes by ESEs are not prohibited by law. The statute governing our collective bargaining neither prohibits strikes by public employees nor grants the express right to strike. Because of this, it is possible that the WWU Administration will claim that a strike is “illegal.” Yet many public sector unions in Washington can and do hold strike authorization votes and go on strike to win fair contracts.


Student Employees at the University of Washington voted to authorize and then executed a one-day strike in 2018 and a 15 day strike in 2001. Just this year, over 2,000 Postdocs and Research Scientists/Engineers at UW went on strike for 9 days. UW Librarians participated in a one-day strike in 2022, and many public school teachers (like K-12 teachers in the Seattle School District recently) have carried out successful strikes in Washington State. WSU student employees participated in a strike – which some of our own members participated in. Most recently, UW Academic Student Employees JUST had a one-day strike that ended Tuesday, May 14th.

None of the workers mentioned above were fined or disciplined, and no union was sued. As with all other union actions, our best protection is our commitment to each other and our willingness to stand together in public; our greatest strength is in our numbers and our solidarity. We will support and protect each other, and work with our affiliated United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership and representatives from our larger union to navigate legal or other challenges as they arise.

If I voted YES! in the Strike Authorization Vote, will I be required to go on strike?

A YES! vote in the SAV does not obligate you to participate in a strike. While a YES! vote is not a binding contract to withhold your labor, a strike will only be successful (and short!!) with mass participation. Additionally, even if you didn’t vote in the SAV, you are still welcome and encouraged to join the picket line. If WWU doesn’t come to the table with a fair contract and we go on strike on Tuesday, May 21st to show Western that we’re serious, the more of us who are on the picket line, the more likely we are to make history with the conditions of our first contract.

Sign up for a shift on the picket line!

Will going on strike hurt my academic progress?


Going on strike is a collective choice to put our work on hold in the short term in order to make our working conditions, our University, and higher education better for everyone in a lasting way. A strike does mean we would put our work on hold, but it doesn’t mean we are encouraging students to discontinue our academic obligations. ESEs care about our work, and we will work together to discuss how we would strike in a way that allows us to win what we deserve and get back to doing the teaching and research we care about. We would be following in the path of many other ESEs and other academic workers who have gone on strike and won huge improvements at the University of Washington, University of California, Rutgers, Harvard, University of Michigan, and many more.

What if my work duties and my academic research are closely related?

For many of us, the research that we conduct serves as both our source of income and data for the projects associated with completing our degrees. Striking has become necessary, because of Western refusing to agree to a fair contract. On Tuesday, May 21st, the University will be forcing ESEs to feel that we need to choose between our dedication to our work and our need for fair working conditions. WWU can choose to agree to a fair contract at any time, and when they do, we will all be able to do our teaching, research and more in a university that supports us much better. If we are forced to go on strike to win a fair first contract, it is most effective (and therefore, shorter) if everyone is withholding every kind of labor that we get paid for – including any research work.

It is ultimately WWU’s responsibility to make sure that any basic maintenance necessary to continue research happens during a strike. However, there are also ways that you can prepare for a potential strike. These plans could include advance-planning your experiments or informing your Primary Investigator that they may need to make alternative plans to ensure that any time-sensitive research or specimen care occurs. It can also be incredibly effective to have the Primary Investigator of your research project put pressure on the University to agree to our demands before we go on strike. Here are some resources to share with your faculty/supervisors/primary investigators to let them know that we are planning to go on strike on the morning Tuesday, May 21st.

Will going on strike hurt the students who depend on my work?

Our working conditions are our students’ and peers’ learning conditions. Until ESEs are treated fairly and equitably, the students who rely on us are worse off. Fortunately, students have been expressing broad support for our campaign for a fair contract. In other Student Employee strikes, non-employed students have organized support by turning out to picket lines, creating petitions, and more — this kind of solidarity can increase the power of a strike and help put pressure on WWU Admin to agree quickly to fair working conditions. 

ESEs can prepare non-employee students by talking to them about what’s going on and what they can expect during a strike: the normal work an ESE would perform would be left undone for the duration of the strike.  There are resources available for ESEs to share ASAP with our students and peers about how they can help avoid or resolve the strike. It can be helpful to remind ourselves and our students that ultimately, WWU Admin has the power to avert or end a strike by offering fair wages and working conditions so that ESEs can focus on our work without scrambling to support themselves in other ways.

Will Western care if we're on strike?


ESEs make WWU run by performing the work of its core mission: “transformational education … based on innovative scholarship, research and creative activity”. Not only would a strike shut down the Western’s central activities, it would also be highly visible. Workers, community members, and elected officials across the state and country are planning to show up to our picket line, and many members of other unions will support by refusing to cross the picket line or perform our jobs for us. There will also likely be significant press coverage, which can exert pressure on management by putting their bad faith tactics in the spotlight. By putting pressure on WWU in multiple ways, an ESE strike would definitely have a major impact.

Am I allowed to strike if I am a work study student employee?

Yes. Your source of funding doesn’t affect your standing as an employee included in this bargaining unit.

Am I allowed to strike if I am an international or undocumented ESE?

Yes. International and undocumented workers can and do participate in union activities–up to and including voting in a Strike Authorization Vote and going on strike–to the same extent that domestic workers can and do.

Am I eligible for strike benefits if I’m an international or undocumented worker?

Yes. Strike pay of $500 per week is available to all workers, regardless of citizenship status. Support from the strike fund is not categorized as wages from employment and does not interfere with work limitations associated with student visas. 

What is a Strike Authorization Vote?

A Strike Authorization Vote (SAV) Is a vote whether or not to give our bargaining team the authority to call a strike if circumstances at the negotiation table with WWU Admin justify. If a two-thirds (⅔) majority of voting Educational Student Employees (ESEs) vote YES, this would allow our bargaining committee to set a strike deadline. Such a deadline would be set if circumstances in bargaining call for one, and if the bargaining committee decides that such a step is necessary to win our best first contract. Our SAV May 6th-9th had 73% participation rate with 93% YES votes.

Frequently Asked Questions for NON-ESEs

Faculty, Staff, and other Students at Western

How can I stay informed about the negotiations and potential strike?

Bargaining updates can be found in the WAWU Bargaining Portal.

Can I talk to ESEs about the strike?

Yes – Western and Bellingham community members are encouraged to show support to ESEs and can participate in union actions!

Are there any specific actions I can take to support ESEs

Yes – Western and Bellingham community members are encouraged to show support to ESEs and participate in union actions, such as picketing! Here are a few other ways you can tangibly support ESEs:

  1. Reach out to the WWU Administration and ask them to offer us a fair contract (template email here), especially on the critical issues of compensation, tuition relief, and protections. Let them know it is critical to invest in a contract that appropriately reflects the importance of the work done by ESEs at WWU. Convey the importance of reaching agreement on a fair contract quickly due to the impact of a potential work stoppage in our workplace.
  2. If ESEs go on strike, please do not do any of our labor. For too long, our work has been invisible to the WWU Administration, and rather than stepping in to complete our work, we urge you to reach out to the Administration and let them know the impact and importance of our labor.
  3. We are asking all members of the WWU community to refuse to cross our picket lines in the event of a strike and voluntarily withhold their own paid labor from WWU. We have the support of hundreds of unionized workers across Western, and we believe that if we all stand together, we can show Western the value of all its workers’ labor, and that an injury to one is an injury to all. If you are unable to withhold your labor, joining our picket lines (5 AM – 5 PM, every weekday) will also be a huge help.
How can I plan for potential impacts, including class cancellations?

Communication is key! Let your peers know about the potential strike and encourage them to reach out to Westerns’s Administration. We are students too, and we care deeply about our studies and educational timelines. We know that in order for Western to provide the quality education it promises, we need educators and support staff to have safe and affordable working conditions. We do not want to strike, but we know how important our first contract and these protections are. We will continue to bargain in good faith until we have reached an agreement that Educational Student Employees will be excited to ratify. Work stoppages will likely result in temporary pauses to classes, including labs, office hours and grading. However, Educational Student Employees are committed to continuing our teaching and educational work after the conclusion of a strike. Faculty and staff are encouraged to communicate with their students about the potential strike, and the importance of fair working conditions.

How can I plan for potential impacts on research continuity?

The objective of any work stoppage, such as a strike, is to maximize and consolidate pressure on the employer to adequately meet the needs of their employees. We will continue to bargain in good faith until we have reached an agreement that Educational Student Employees will be excited to ratify. Work stoppages will likely result in temporary pauses to research, including data acquisition, analysis, and communication. However, Educational Student Employees are committed to continuing research after the conclusion of a strike. Faculty, staff, and trainees in research groups are encouraged to communicate regarding the maintenance of essential, emergency, and sensitive research materials so that research may continue after the conclusion of a strike.

How do I avoid being used by Western as a strikebreaker?

 Faculty should not compensate for work otherwise done by ESEs, whether by performing the work themselves or by seeking out other sources of labor. This can include grading, holding quiz sections, analyzing data, running experiments, and communicating results. Western’s Labor Relations has communicated to faculty that they should develop contingency plans to minimize the impact of the work stoppage on the student experience. However, the impact of the work stoppage should be maximized to pressure the employer to adequately meet the needs of their employees.

How do I not cross the picket line?

Working while a strike is occurring is crossing a picket line. We are asking all members of the Western community to refuse to cross our picket lines in the event of a strike and withhold their own paid labor from WWU. We have the support of hundreds of unionized workers across Western, and we believe that if we all stand together, we can show Western the value of all its workers’ labor, and that an injury to one is an injury to all. If you are unable to withhold your labor, joining our picket lines (5 AM – 5 PM, every weekday) will also be a huge help.

Will I face repercussions from the university if I show support for an ESE work stoppage?

UFWW has provided guidance for faculty that can be found on their website here

There is a long history of faculty support for work stoppages by unionized student workers at UW and WSU. By acting together, the hundreds of faculty who have supported previous work stoppages have avoided disciplinary or legal action, including faculty who signed on to solidarity letters. Should Provost Johnson or any of the Deans seek to punish faculty, they would have to comply with the due process and proportionality requirements of the faculty collective bargaining agreement. UFWW will support faculty. Additionally, all university members, including faculty, have the right to express their personal opinions toward any demonstrations or actions on campus.

Won't meeting ESEs’ demands put undue financial pressure on WWU?

ESEs understand that academia is hyper-competitive and that faculty within and outside of WWU share concerns about overstretched budgets and diminishing returns. We encourage our community to organize with us, the other labor unions on campus, and our students to find strategies to alleviate the financial stress of maintaining excellence in research, scholarship, and teaching while appropriately compensating their employees. We believe that faculty should interrogate university leadership regarding institute-wide financial strategy and how WWU can prioritize meeting the needs of its workforce in a timely fashion.