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UW Lecturers Vote to Unionize

March 28, 2011

SEATTLE - While labor unions - and union-busting efforts - are making headlines elsewhere in the nation, a new union local is being formed on the University of Washington campus without a controversy.

The group of about 60 UW lecturers says the move isn't because they're unhappy with their pay or working conditions. Instead, the instructors - who teach international students in the Educational Outreach program - say they've felt somewhat left out of the traditional campus system for years. They were not allowed to join the Faculty Senate, and they even asked the State Legislature to clarify where they fit within the higher education system.

When that didn't work, instructor Richard Moore says, they decided to organize.

"No one seemed to know where we belonged - whether we were exempt staff or civil service or faculty. We felt we were in a kind of tenuous position, in terms of protecting what rights we had."

Some of the English-language lecturers have been at UW for more than 20 years, under individual contracts. Moore, who helped lead the effort to organize, thinks the situation has probably been as confusing for the school administration as it has for the teachers.

"What I think has been a problem is that, when there's a question like, 'Should we have this kind of benefit or not?' then it's up in the air. Having a contract, a negotiated contract, would make that a lot easier for everybody."

After spending the last few years trying to figure out how to represent themselves on campus, Moore says the group has learned how to work together, which should help in negotiating its first contract. The lecturers will be part of the teachers' union, AFT Washington.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA