Educators’ Revolt Spreads to Higher Education Workers

By Matthew Maley, Substitute at Nova High School

North Carolina, Colorado, and Indiana all are on the brink of joining the uprising of educators around the country in what is turning out to be the most important strike wave in the U.S. since the 1970’s. First, educators in West Virginia struck for nine days and won a 5% raise for all public-sector workers in the state. Then, Oklahoma educators won $6,000 raises before striking for two weeks.

Next, Arizona educators struck for six days and won between 5-10% raises as well as around $400 million in funding for public education. Meanwhile, Kentucky educators have been fighting to defend their pensions for the last couple months with multiple statewide actions. Now, the torch is being picked up by the higher education sector. Age-old lessons of the labor movement are being re-learned in real time: an injury to one is an injury to all and when we fight, we can win.

Columbia graduate students struck a few weeks ago in April, after a 93% strike authorization vote in the face of a litany of excuses and half-truths from the university administration, which has refused to recognize the GCW-UAW Local 2110 as representing graduate student workers. This was long after the student workers had won the vote to unionize by 72% back at the end of 2016. Now, their sister local of student employees at the New School, SENS-UAW, are on strike for a fair contract.

In the past week the fight has spread to the West Coast, with massive strike actions taking place in the University of California system, including over 50,000 healthcare workers striking for pay and a freeze to cuts in healthcare funding. This strike was called by AFSCME Local 3299 and they were joined on the picket line by the California Nurses Association and the Communication Workers of America, standing in solidarity.

In addition to bread and butter issues, one important current through these struggles is the expression of movements against sexual harassment and violence like #CarryThatWeight and #MeToo on campus and now in the workplace, as a labor issue. If we are to build trust and solidarity within the labor movement as a whole, it is paramount that unions fight for protections against sexual harassment and for avenues to deal with high status abusers who may use their standing to intimidate anyone who comes forward against them.

On Tuesday, May 15, the 4,500 graduate and undergraduate Teacher Assistants, Research Assistants, Readers, Graders, and Tutors who are members of the UAW 4121 at the University of Washington are planning a one-day strike if the UW administration fails to meet their demands. Amongst other issues, they are fighting for pay increases, child care subsidies, trans-inclusive health care and against sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination on campus. At the May 14 Representative Assembly, Social Equity Educators called on the Seattle Education Association to support a resolution in solidarity with our fellow union members in their fight for a safe, respectful workplace.


The following is a new business item to be proposed by Matt Maley at the Seattle Education Association Representative Assembly on 5/14/2018.

Whereas, many graduate students at UW, represented by UAW Local 4121, cannot afford to live within Seattle because of the low pay and lack of affordable housing; and

Whereas, the university administration has offered to raise pay by less than the cost of living in Seattle, and refuses to waive burdensome fees for student workers, it is increasingly difficult for students to afford healthcare coverage, especially those student-workers who are queer, trans* or in need of mental health care; and

Whereas, in a number of documented cases graduate students have struggled for long periods before resolving cases of harassment and discrimination, despite the social movements against sexual harassment exploding on campus and in the workplace, such as #MeToo and #CarryThatWeight; and

Whereas, graduate students’ passed a strike authorization vote by 93% before their contract with the UW officially ended two weeks ago and was extended until today, May 14; and

Whereas, Local 4121 plans to go out on strike for one day on Tuesday, May 15, joining graduate students all over the country, following public school educators who have recently moved into struggle during this educator uprising;

Therefore, be it resolved that the SEA send out a special Unity email to its members informing them of the fight that our sisters and brothers of higher ed are in, struggling for the pay and workplace protections that all educators deserve, and encouraging its members to join UAW Local 4121 on the picket line after school Tuesday, May 15 for the one day strike they have planned; and

Be it further resolved that SEA share posts on all social media platforms saying we stand in solidarity with graduate students on UW campus

Be it further resolved that if UAW Local 4121 goes out on strike in the near future for longer than 3 days, then the SEA donate $1000 to their strike fund.


Please contribute to the pizza fund for the UAW strike:




Featured Image from MLK Labor Council