WSU’S Coalition of Academic Student Employees ratifies its first contract

Members of the WSU Coalition of Academic Student Employees rally in May 2022 on WSU's Pullman campus. (Credit: WSU-CASE/UAW)
Members of the WSU Coalition of Academic Student Employees rally in May 2022 on WSU's Pullman campus. (Credit: WSU-CASE/UAW)



Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Jan. 26 and was updated with additional information on Jan. 29.

At academic institutions nationwide, student workers continue to organize, and those at Washington State University got a big win. 

The Coalition of Academic Student Employees has ratified its first union contract. With the agreement, student employees will get paid vacation for the first time, as well as earn six weeks of paid parental leave. 

The contract also means higher wages. In the next two and a half years, the minimum salary for a typical doctoral candidate working in Pullman will increase by 49%. 

Ninh Khuu, a third-year doctoral student at Washington State University who works in the department of plant pathology, said the pay increases are life-changing. 

Khuu lives and works in Prosser, Washington. There, the cost of living is higher than, say, Pullman, which is where WSU’s main campus is. Since the university employs people across the state, it was important for employees to have salary increases that reflect where they live and work.  While Khuu earns about $2,000 every month now, soon, he said he will see closer to $2,500-$2,600.

“I know that we’ve heard from many of our unit members who have expressed just pure excitement that they’ll be able to help make rent, and they’ll have to rely less on food pantries,” Khuu said.

For Khuu, the additional money might mean he can drop the extra hours he works at the university to make ends meet. 

This all comes after the union filed a complaint of unfair labor practices last September, months of negotiations and a strike earlier this month.  

In an emailed statement, Phil Weiler, WSU’s vice president of University Marketing and Communications, said the university was pleased that the union ratified its contract.

Graduate students play a critical role in teaching and research at any public research university, and WSU wants to be able to recruit the best and brightest graduate students to our institution,” Weiler said. “We are confident that this initial contract will help do that.

The union represents more than 1,800 student workers at campuses and research stations around the state. The student employees ratified the contract agreements with 99% of members in favor of it. 

There are still benefits to negotiate, such as the 2024-25 health plan for student workers. Khuu said that’s exactly what a union is for.

“Even though there are still things that we haven’t completely achieved, we still have the ability to improve it,” Khuu said. 

The tentative agreement can be read here