By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

The Working Wildcats: CWU’s student employees union, ‘made for students by students.’

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The Working Wildcats have already made their mark on CWU as they continue to receive impressive support from students and faculty alike. Since its inception in Sept. 2023, the union has garnered hundreds of members according to Anna Ward, a member of the union’s organizing committee. The Working Wildcats intend to improve wages, working conditions and the lives of student employees at CWU through intensive bargaining sessions with the university. 

Comprised of both student employee members and an organizing committee that operates without designated positions or labels, the union’s structure is modeled partly after Western Washington University’s respective student workers’ union. The Western Academic Workers United-UAW union (WAWU-UAW) recently became the first non-academic student workers’ union in Washington state. 

Caleena Wyman, a graduate teaching assistant with the history department, is another member of the Working Wildcats’ organizing committee. “I have been working on establishing a student workers’ union since the first day I heard about it,” Wyman said.  “Unionization is necessary for us to gain a seat at the table that determines our working conditions.” 

After her experience working at Dining Services while in her undergraduate years, a student workers union is something Wyman believes is essential. 

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“I want there to be a union on campus because there are so many student employees who are not being treated fairly,” Wyman said. “The lack of accessibility accommodations for students is appalling. With a student workers’ union, the quality of CWU services will improve when we have over a thousand students working on campus who are being treated fairly in the workplace.”

Wyman and Ward both cite the injustices student employees face as a main incentive to unionize. 

“Poor working conditions and hours, and unfair treatment from bosses and pro staff [are problems for student employees the union intends to solve],” Ward added. 

Ward also describes nightmarish instances all over campus where employees are forced to work with coworkers who have been accused of sexual assault.

The Working Wildcats aim to recruit the 1,200 student workers employed by the university through social media outreach and their crucial authorization cards.

Authorization cards allow students to gain union certification and allow the Working Wildcats to begin collective bargaining as an official, legal union. The cards signify that student workers at CWU support the Working Wildcats, representing all student employees in collective bargaining with university administration.*

The union’s ability to collectively bargain is the heart of its determination to push for change. According to the Working Wildcats website FAQ, collective bargaining allows student employees to elect peer representatives to negotiate on the same playing field as the administration here at CWU. It’s important to note that faculty members at CWU are unionized themselves. “And if faculty can unionize, we see no point as student workers why we can’t unionize,” Ward said.

A contract known as a tentative agreement (TA) is produced through these negotiations. TA ensures the terms and conditions for student employees. All student employees represented by this agreement will vote to approve the tentative agreement. If the agreement is approved, it becomes a legally binding contract.

The union can only proceed with most student employees on board, around 600 signatures according to Ward. “If my children decide to go to CWU, I want it to be a student unionized CWU,” Wyman said. “We won’t need to do this forever, but we need to do all of our part in gathering cards to ensure that there is a forever.” Forever meaning the furthered sustentation of the Working Wildcats.

Ward insists that the Working Wildcats union is intended to be a perennial project despite the incoming graduation of many on the organizing committee. 

“I, as an alumni, once I graduate, will still support as much as possible,” Ward said. “This is a student-led organization. Once we leave we’ll have people take over for us… This is something we see going for a long time and [eventually] be instated into a legal organization.”

The union’s work was instrumental in the recent reinstatement of the six fired SLICE (Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement) employees who were left jobless after a meeting with supervisors on Jan. 2. 

A letter from the Working Wildcats to CWU administration, including university President Jim Wohlpart and Vice President for the Division of Student Engagement and Success Dr. Margaret Ortega, was drafted by union heads to address the unjust firings. The letter came alongside a petition that received over 200 signatures from “current students, current student employees, parents, grandparents [and] alumni,” according to Ward.

The six fired SLICE employees were reinstated into their former positions less than 2 weeks later, thanks in no small part to those with the Working Wildcats who jumped at the chance to execute the union’s goals. 

“We were given a very powerful, very scary, but very powerful opportunity with the SLICE termination[s] to show what unionization can do,” Ward said.

“That’s what unionizing will do… university-[wide],” she added. “Everyone will have a place at the table to bring up their concerns or questions, what they want to change, and ultimately we’ll get a place to bargain. We’re going to get a place to say, ‘Here’s what’s wrong.’”

Asher Zachman, a first-year student at CWU and a student employee working as a barista in various cafes around campus, says his experience in the workplace has been mostly positive. 

“Every other job I’ve had has just kind of tossed you into your position, and you learn by cutting yourself and burning yourself and just figuring it out on your own,” Zachman said. “They [café trainers] actually provided comprehensive training… so it’s a good environment in that sense.” 

“Specifically for the cafés,” Zachman added. “I’ve heard different things about the dining.”

But, as Wyman said, “[The union is] a resource that students can use to not just better their time at Central, but to prepare them to have higher expectations of the workplace they enter after.” 

The Working Wildcats host their general meetings on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. in Samuelson 105 and are open to student and non-student workers. These general meetings aim to tackle the issues student workers face at CWU to create a more sustainable ‘forever’, in Wyman’s words, for student workers.

*Observer employees were approached with union authorization cards among university-issued general employment paperwork.

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