UW Seattle Student Workers Win $15!

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By Sara Parolin and Becky Fuller-Phillips

After more than eight months of campaigning, student workers and staff at the University of Washington won a $15/hour minimum wage for all campus workers. In June 2014, Seattle passed a minimum wage ordinance calling for $15/hour by 2017. UW immediately resisted raising the minimum wage, claiming that it was not obligated to follow the city’s law as a state institution. This resistance brought together numerous student organizations, unions, and community members to fight back as part of one major coalition: Reclaim UW. UW USAS was a leading force in the coalition and the fight for $15 on campus, organizing student workers and many of the actions that eventually led to the UW administration conceding.

On Wednesday, April 1st, tens of thousands of workers across Seattle received a wage increase as part of Seattle’s groundbreaking $15/hour minimum wage ordinance. Despite being the single largest employer in Seattle, UW refused to pay at least $15/hour to campus workers. In response, members of UW USAS and Reclaim UW fought back. The first action began with a rally and a march across campus in solidarity with low-wage workers fighting UW‘s refusal to pay fair wages. The organizers then stopped by several UW workplaces and passed out flyers informing UW workers about the University‘s decision to not pay $15/hour.  Along the way students, staff and other community members, including Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, shared personal stories about how receiving a living wage of $15/hour would change their lives. This was only the first step, however, because UW administration still refused to pay campus workers what they deserve: a living wage.

Following the April 1st action, UW USAS and other campus activists organized a large protest, “We’re Hungry for Justice,” that took place during the UW Board of Regents dinner meeting at the exclusive University Club. The protest drew over 100 people, lots of media coverage, and, in the end, pressured the University to agree to raise some non-student workers minimum wages to $11/hour. Not pleased with the selective and modest bump to $11, which should have been already implemented, UW USASers continued the fight to secure $15/hour. The pressure was held on the UW administration for the rest of the year and included another action at the Board of Regents meeting, as well as a study-in in the president’s conference room.

During the summer, many groundbreaking decisions were made at other institutions that were claiming the same excuses as UW. In August, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Seattle-Tacoma Airport was also subject to the minimum wage ordinance. This ruling and others similar weakened the UW’s argument for not following the ordinance. Just before Autumn quarter began, the UW finally announced their decision to follow the Seattle minimum wage ordinance, and raise ALL minimum wages to $15/hour by 2017. This makes UW the first university in the country to have a $15/hour minimum wage for all campus workers, including student workers!