A strike by academic student employees, most of whom are Ph.D. students, would have meant some papers and exams wouldn't have been graded right away as the school year closes out.

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The University of Washington’s 4,500 teaching assistants, researchers and other graduate-student employees avoided a strike Saturday and will instead vote on a proposed contract this weekend.

The threatened 14-day strike by academic student employees, most of whom are Ph.D. students, would have meant some papers and final exams wouldn’t have been graded right away as the school year closes out.

Friday was the last day of classes and finals week is Saturday through June 8. Many classes are taught and exams graded by teaching assistants.

The university and UAW Local 4121, which represents the student employees, were deadlocked earlier in the week. But university officials came to the table with a new contract proposal Friday afternoon, said Sam Sumpter, a spokeswoman for the union.

The union’s bargaining committee recommended that members ratify the new proposal, and members began voting Saturday morning.

“The strike has been averted,” for now, Sumpter said.

In the new proposal, the UW offered $100 to each student employee every academic year to defray student fees and said the university would allow UAW 4121 to bargain with three other unions this summer regarding transit passes, Sumpter said. The university also offered to increase the size of a childcare-subsidy fund from $45,000 to $60,000, she said.

Sumpter said a straw poll of about 2,000 members indicated that 62 percent were in favor of the contract.

“I’m personally encouraged by what we’ve achieved,” she said Saturday. “There are things to be excited about and things to still be frustrated about.”

“While we have recommended to members they ratify it, it’s still not everything we’d been pushing for,” she added.

While unlikely, the members could strike Monday if a majority don’t approve the contract by Sunday night.

Graduate students on all three campuses – Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma – say their wages aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living in the region. Their contract expired April 30, and on May 15 they held a one-day strike, which led to the cancellation of some classes.

The university says the academic student employees make a median wage of $32 an hour and work 20 hours a week, but students dispute that characterization, saying they often work much longer than 20 hours a week, despite what their contract says. In addition to pay, their tuition is waived and they receive health care.

The UW has proposed a 2 percent raise each year for the next three years. Spokesman Victor Balta said the university has brought graduate-student pay up by about 50 percent over the past five years to catch up to peer institutions and cannot afford to do more.

As a result of the union negotiations, the university has agreed to jointly develop a sexual-harassment training program and to post the hourly rates it pays its student employees, Sumpter said.