WSU offers $15.7 million in wage increases for academic student employees

| February 17, 2024 1:00 AM

PULLMAN — Academic student employees on assistantships would see an average wage increase of at least 20% under the latest proposal offered by Washington State University as labor negotiations continued ahead of a reported January 17 union strike deadline.

The university package proposes to meet the minimum salary steps of the students’ new union representative, the United Auto Workers, and includes salary modifiers based on work location and educational or experience levels that would push total compensation higher. If the total package were to be accepted as proposed, it would cost the university at least an additional estimated $15.7 million in wages alone through fiscal year 2026.

“The progress being made is a testament to the effort being put in by all parties,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “There’s still more work to do but we’re confident we can reach a fair and equitable agreement that recognizes the value of our academic student employees as well as the reality of the university’s resources.”

Under the proposal, the minimum monthly salary for the approximately 1,500 academic student employees in an assistantship would be $2,318.50 on 50% appointment. The proposal’s salary modifiers based on work locations throughout the WSU system, have the Vancouver and Everett campuses topping the list at a minimum monthly salary of $2,974. The educational or experience level salary modifiers would provide additional increases of up to 10% above the work location amounts.

The offer also includes the 4% mass salary increase in the second year of a ratified contract sought by the union, though implementation would happen later in the year, Oct. 1, 2025.

In addition to the wage proposal, the package offer extends WSU-paid pregnancy and parental leave to five weeks instead of the current four and would provide new vacation time off and paid sick leave benefits of up to 48 hours and 36 hours respectively, for a nine-month appointment. The university has also agreed to create a child and dependent care program which would allow an eligible ASE to apply for financial assistance of up to $2,025 for fall and spring and $1,550 for summer terms for eligible expenses.

For academic student employees in hourly positions, rather than assistantships, the university is offering a minimum 8% increase over 2023 rates in hourly compensation rates with campuses and departments able to pay at higher rates as appropriate.

Additional details and regular progress updates are available on WSU’s Human Resource Services website.

The union, which has announced a Jan. 17 strike date if it doesn’t have what it considers a fair agreement from WSU by then, also is providing details and regular updates on its website.

Of the 43 issues on the negotiating table, 34 have been tentatively agreed upon by the negotiating teams on both sides.

Although wages, health-care benefits and other items are still pending, the tentative agreements so far include several other key topics. Among them:

• Workload agreements.

• Professional development and career counseling opportunities.

• Peer-led sexual harassment and prevention training known as EPIC.

• Centralized job postings for ASEs not hired through assistantships.

• Clear provisions for when and how layoffs would be handled.

• Changes in how compensation for work during summer sessions would be handled.

• Commitment to providing respectful work environments.

• New employee orientation.

The university’s academic student employees, often referred to as ASEs, voted to unionize in November 2022 and contract negotiations were initiated in February of last year for what will be the union’s first contract with WSU. The two sides have met more than 30 times since.

Academic student employees serve in a variety of university roles, such as teaching and research assistants. The graduate assistant appointments are for no more than 20 hours per week during the nine-month academic year to make sure they have ample time to focus on their studies.