UAW Local 4121 is the newest union on campus. It represents more than four thousand academic student employees (ASEs) who work as teaching assistants, research assistants, graders, and tutors.
Organizing began in the winter of 1998. A year later, members decided to affiliate with the United Autoworkers of America which had recently won a long recognition campaign at the University of California. By Spring 2000, the union had collected signed authorization cards from 80 percent of the teaching assistants, readers, and tutors on campus. When the university administration refused to bargain, claiming that state law prohibited it, the stage was set for a confrontation. In June 2001, the union staged a dramatic two week strike that disrupted end-of-the-quarter grading. In early 2002, the Legislature, under heavy pressure to avoid another confrontation, passed a measure extending collective bargaining rights to academic student employees.
Later that year the union negotiated its first contract with UW. Local 4121 maintains a website with up-to-date information. about the negotiations. Click on the logo below.
The materials that follow tell the UAW 4121 story in several ways. To the right is a photo essay consisting of images from the June 2001 strike. Three appeared in the UW Daily and are reproduced with the permission of photographers Ben Spatz and David Greenspan.
Below are detailed essays, some written by students in HSTAA 450 spring 2002.
“Balance of Power: Evolution of TAs and Unions”—Kyana Cavaiani discusses the changing role of TAs on university campuses and surveys the unionization campaigns on a number of campuses.
“The Early History of GSEAC/UAW”—Daeha Ko explores the beginnings of TA organizing on the UW campus and the failed negotiations of the first few years.
“The GSEAC Strike of 2001”—Josh Kennedy tells the story of the dramatic strike and the issues behind it.
"Before the UAW: Graduate Student Organizing at UW 1963-1997" -- Trevor Griffey.
In 2005, Trevor Griffey, PhD student in U.S. History at the UW, wrote a pre-history of GSEAC/ UAW 4121 from 1963-1997. The 2-part story, "Exam Graders and Hell Raisers," was written for Ruckus magazine, and won the Campus Alternative Journalism Project's award for best labor journalism.
Below are Brian Grijalva's picket-line photos taken during the June 2001 strike. The homemade picket signs tell their own story of creativity and struggle.
The UW DAILY tells the story: Here is a list of articles about the campaign. The links are no longer active.
The First Threat of Strike:
Outcome of Averted Strike:
Another Strike Looming Ahead:
Outcome of Strike
Yet Another Strike Looming!
These articles were written in Spring 2002. For problems or questions contact James Gregory.