Graduate students who work for the University of Washington have given their bargaining unit the go-ahead to call a strike if they cannot reach a deal on a contract.

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A majority of graduate students who work for the University of Washington have voted to strike if the union that represents them cannot reach an agreement with the UW on a new contract.

About 90 percent of the 2,258 votes cast authorized the UAW 4121 bargaining committee to call a strike if circumstances justify it. There are about 4,000 graduate students who work for the university.

The students — who work as research assistants and teaching assistants, and are known as Academic Student Employees — say the latest contract offer requires them to pay student fees out of their paychecks, which amounts to a pay cut. They also say the contract would cut health benefits.

Last week, UW officials sent a letter to the students saying it is illegal for them to strike because they are public employees.  The students said the letter was designed to intimidate them.

The contract expires April 30.